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Vaccine Trials Continue to Seek Increased Minority Participation; Twenty-five Wildfires Continue to Burn on West Coast; Food Bank Demands High in Essex County, New Jersey. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 10:30   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, this is all about testing this across a broad swathe of the population so you know what's safe and what's not safe.

As a doctor and also as someone who's participating and doing your part, talk about the importance of that participation.

CHRIS PERNELL, LOST FATHER TO CORONAVIRUS: It's of the utmost importance. And let me start with this. I get it. I get the skepticism that exists in the black community around, let's say, the medical establishment. You know, my work centers on anti-racism strategies, my work centers on population health and population-based care.

Centuries-long history of medical experimentation and exploitation that gives the black community a sense of pause, that broken trust, right? Can I trust that you know, my rights will be respected, that my life matters and that my life is being valued? I get that. And the ongoing stain that racism, let's say, has caused in American health care.

But even with that being true, this opportunity is paramount. This opportunity is a chance to be a part of the solution. And communities that have been --


PERNELL: -- disproportionately impacted should have that opportunity, should have that access to say I want to be a part of the solution. And ultimately, when an intervention or when a prevention tool like a vaccine is approved and made available, those communities should be communities that are first in line, right? To be able to reap the benefits from that science.

So I think in medicine, we have to embrace and balance that lack of trust that there has been a look for ways to give opportunity. You know, definitely informed consent, definitely following rigorous scientific guidelines. But to make sure that black and brown persons and families have the opportunity and the access and know the importance of using their self-efficacy, right?

SCIUTTO: Yes. PERNELL: And you may choose -- you may say this is not right for me,

but to have that choice.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, you're in the midst of this, you took your first dose just over a week ago --


SCIUTTO: -- you're aware of skepticism among the broader public. Not just the black community, but the broader public, portions of the public, about a vaccine. So let me give you an opportunity here to speak to those people who may have a question in their mind about taking this themselves, giving it to their children, members of their family. How should they view this?

PERNELL: I was just talking about this the other day with a dear colleague and physician leader that I greatly respect. And you know, we were reflecting. If it were not for brave souls in the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic who agreed to be a part of trials, who agreed to be a part of clinical research, what was once an almost certain death sentence has become a chronic disease.

So this is an opportunity to take a pandemic that has been utterly devastating for our nation, utterly devastating for the world, and to be able to say, do I have the self-efficacy, meaning the ability to make an informed choice, a decision to say I want to be one of those persons that helps us find a solution.

And I think if those of us in the public could just take a moment and to reflect on this, it's an intimate decision, it's a personal decision. You have to have all of the data, you have to have all of the facts.

You should know that this trial -- although this is happening at a quicker pace than what we are used to, what we see so far according to phase one published data and what we know from what's going on in phase two, it -- things are pointing in the right direction.

But with that, I would like to stress and to emphasize, understanding the unease that is in the public, that no vaccine should be approved before we complete phase three trials. So I just want to reassure the public that this is an opportunity to be a part of something that's going to be quite consequential for all of us.

SCIUTTO: It's why you do the trials, right? Well, Dr. Chris Pernell, we appreciate the part you're doing in this. Thanks so much.

PERNELL: Thank you.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: What a great interview, I'm so glad we could hear from her.


OK, up next, an update on the wildfires, 25 of them at least now burning across the state of California. They've scorched more than 2 million acres and led to dozens of rescues, harrowing rescues. We'll bring you there, next.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Right now, firefighters facing enormous risks. They're battling more than 25 wildfires all the way up and down the coast of California. At least 2.2 million acres have burned across the state. This is an enormous amount of area, lots of homes affected.

HARLOW: The Creek Fire in Central California -- that's what you're looking at images of now -- is burning so fast, it's burning an area roughly the size of Central Park every 30 minutes.

Our Ryan Young is in Monrovia, California near the Bobcat Fire. What's the latest on the battle there?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, you really get a sense to see this illustration of just how dangerous this fire can be. Look, we're in the middle of a neighborhood. The folks here have been told to evacuate. The reason why is look above up there, you can see the flame line that is up there and the smoke that has been going all day.

The big worry here is that the heavy winds start kicking in again, that it could spread down to neighborhoods. Over 400 structures have been damaged so far because of these fires.


When you're driving down the highway here, you see the fire lines almost everywhere, so people are dealing with this. The smoke penetrates everything from your clothes to inside your car, you just smell this heavy presence of it all around.

But on top of that, the firefighters and National Guard crews have been doing a great job trying to save people. In fact, take a look at this video from inside a helicopter. In the last few days, they've been able to save some 385 people. These are some folks who were doing camping, they were trapped, the fire had blocked their exits. They were able to fly helicopters in and pull them out.

But then when you talk about that other fire, the Creek Fire, the fact that 163,000 acres have burned, that's 163,000 acres. And then on top of that, its zero percent containment. The numbers are astonishing, especially with the dry conditions, the heavy heat and then the heavy winds.

This is something that everyone's sort of paying attention to, hopefully to make sure that some of these neighborhoods are not more greatly impacted than what they have been in the last few hours.

SCIUTTO: Ryan, it's not just California, we're also seeing Oregon and Washington States --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- thousands of acres burned as well. Governor of Oregon, calling it a once in a generation event. Tell us about the scale there as well, and are those fires related?

YOUNG: Yes. You know, people have been talking about this. Fire season hasn't even started yet, so when you add in all these difficult conditions and the fact that firefighters are out there, fighting more than 20 hours at a time. And then you have it happening here, in Oregon and other parts of the West Coast?

You know the big problem here is, a lot of the times, they would do mutual aid. But the firefighters have been busy all up and down the coast right now, and it doesn't look there's going to be any relief from the weather part. There are people who are absolutely praying for rain and some changes, and we've been watching that fire above our head for hours. Neighbors have even come out to look at it.

On top of that, don't forget about all the evacuations, where people have been trying to get away from this to make sure their homes and their families are safe.

HARLOW: Ryan, thank you for being there. We're thinking about all of them right now.

So up next for us, there are cars lined up for blocks and blocks and blocks, and the demand is overwhelming for these food banks in New Jersey right now. Now, leaders from one of the hardest hit counties in the state is demanding federal action. They'll be with us, next.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing forward with tomorrow's vote on a trimmed down stimulus bill despite bipartisan pushback, actually. The bill includes $300 a week in enhanced jobless benefits -- that of course, about half of where that enhanced benefit was at the peak -- it has an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, $105 billion in education funds.

Democrats say not enough. The bill would also cut money for a new round of stimulus checks, and does not provide new funds for local governments that are facing shortfalls.

HARLOW: OK, major implications to that and major implications of nothing getting done on this front in Congress. As they continue to fight, millions of Americans continue to struggle.

Families in Essex County, New Jersey are being hit particularly hard. Just this week, a food distribution event hosted by the Community FoodBank of New Jersey quickly ran out of food, 1,000 boxes of food gone in less than two hours.

We're going to talk about this with Carlos Rodriguez, president and CEO of that food bank, and Essex County executive Joe DiVincenzo. You're both members of the New Jersey governor's Restart and Recovery Advisory Council. Thank you for being with me.

Carlos, if we could begin with you, what was it like to see that happen, to be hosting this event, to know that there are people in need but to see the extent of it in person?

CARLOS RODRIGUEZ, PRESIDENT AND CEO, FOODBANK OF NEW JERSEY: Well, it's heartbreaking, and it's an event that we've seen repeat in the months since the pandemic began. You know, families showing up, hoping for a little nourishment. And many of them showing up for the very first time of having to deal with the need for food for the very first time. On top of the many families who were struggling before and continue to struggle now in unimaginable ways.

So it's just heart-wrenching, and it's (INAUDIBLE) -- we know that it's something that can be prevented and addressed.

HARLOW: One of the things that has struck me so much, Carlos, about your comments on this is your description of the shock in the faces of the people that come: the mothers that come, the fathers that come, people who had jobs, some people who are still, you know, working minimally, trying to scrape by but don't have enough to provide. These are people that never in a million years thought they'd be in that line.

RODRIGUEZ: And I can't tell you what it is to see the face of a mom with a car seat and a child in the back, and the look of what is clearly grief and concern as they pull up. And as you put food in the back of their trunk, to see them get a glance through their rearview mirror and just see a little bit of relief as they kind of drive away.

It's just not something that you'd ever imagine seeing so consistently in the five, six months that we've been doing this.

HARLOW: So, Joe, to you, you are the county executive there, and there's been so much made of how well New Jersey has done and Governor Murphy has done in terms of fighting COVID, so much so that they even opened restaurants at, you know, 25 percent capacity indoors this week, right? Saying our numbers are low enough, trying to help prop up those businesses.


But when you look at the Johns Hopkins numbers, your county, 2,120 people have died from COVID, more than any other New Jersey county. So why are those in your community so vulnerable? And can you speak to what you're seeing versus I think the broader narrative, is that New Jersey's doing pretty well, all things considered.

JOE DIVINCENZO, COUNTY EXECUTIVE, ESSEX COUNTY, NEW JERSEY: Well, listen, it's very concerning, we -- what's happening here in Essex County. There's no question we have been hit the hardest here. You talk about the number of deaths, which is over 2,000. You talk about the positive COVID results, which is over 20,000. You talk about -- our unemployment rate right now is over 16.6 in Essex County.

The people need help. They need everyone to pitch in together. You talked about that last food distribution with the Community FoodBank? We partner with the, we've been doing this every Thursday, traveling throughout Essex County providing service for our residents because Carlos is absolutely right -- HARLOW: YEs. You know --

DIVINCENZO: -- people are hurting out there, and people -- you know, the food insecurity was -- always existed here in Essex County, but it's a lot worse now because of the coronavirus and --

HARLOW: You know --

DIVINCENZO: -- we have a lot more work to do here.

HARLOW: If you -- I don't even know what, you know, political party you're affiliated with, and that's not what this is about. I think my question to you, Joe, is one to leaders of both parties right now.

DIVINCENZO: Yes, Poppy, listen --


HARLOW: Congress is fighting, they are stalled, they are not doing their jobs, they are not reaching an agreement yet both say we need more stimulus. So what's your message to them?

DIVINCENZO: Listen, it's a political football game and they're playing with people's lives, all right? And it's wrong. Whether you're a Democrat, whether you're a Republican, whether you're an independent, they have to get something done.

You have the Democrats put a plan for $2.5 billion (ph), the Republicans came back and put $5 billion (ph). They have to come to meet in between and get things done because people are hurting and we need their help in all kinds of ways. Let's stop playing with people's lives.

HARLOW: Yes, important message.

Carlos, before we go, if you could just speak to also the disproportionate impact that we're seeing play out again on minority communities, communities of color?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, and it's -- it really is interesting to see how the numbers evolve in terms of food insecurity. It disproportionately affects a black and brown neighbors, but it really does touch every single community and every demographic across the state.

Of course, those that were vulnerable before, those that have essential -- that make up the essential workforce are the ones that are disproportionately impacted. And of course, so many of our families across the entire state -- and in Essex County, just had jobs and were making ends meet, but again they were one economic shock away from falling on hard times, and that's exactly what we're dealing with now.

We know what's going to happen --

(CROSSTALK) RODRIGUEZ: -- enhanced (ph) unemployment is going to help, increasing the SNAP benefits is going to help. It just can't fall on the shoulders of charity alone.

HARLOW: No, it' certainly can't.


DIVINCENZO: Poppy, Carlos mentioned about, this is happening throughout. We have 22 towns, we have over 800,000 residents. This has touched every community. There's people for the first time that are on line, they've never been on line. It's so upsetting to see that.

But we're there to help, we're there to support our residents in making sure they get to be able to provide food for their families, which is the most important thing.

HARLOW: Yes. They're blessed to have the work that you guys are doing. Let's hope Congress gets its act together. Carlos Rodriguez, Joseph DiVincenzo, thank you.


We'll be right back.


HARLOW: Well, in Rochester, New York, a seventh night of protest. This of course, following the video release of the death of Daniel Prude, the black man who died after police covered his head and held him to the ground months ago, but the public just seeing it for the first time in the last week.

SCIUTTO: Well, the city's police chief and several high ranking officials submitted paperwork to retire. CNN's Alexandra Field has more.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Jim and Poppy. La'Ron Singletary, the police chief in Rochester, says he is retiring because of the mischaracterization and politicization of his actions in the aftermath of the death of Daniel Prude.

For some context here, there have been accusations that information about the death was withheld, there has also been sparring with the mayor's office over whether or not the release of video showing that encounter with police was delayed in its release, both to the mayor and to the public.

Now you've got the entire top command of the Rochester Police Department stepping away from their posts. Protestors reacted to the news, spraying "murderers" outside of the police department overnight. The police officers' union is defending the officers who were involved. Seven officers have been suspended, none of them have been charged but we learned, just a few days ago, that the state's attorney general will impanel a grand jury to take up this case -- Poppy, Jim.


HARLOW: Alexandra Field, thank you for that reporting and the update.

And thanks to all of you for joining us, we'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.