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Sally Expected to Become Hurricane, Make Landfall Near New Orleans; Deadly Wildfires Ravage U.S. West Coast; Pfizer Predicts Results on Vaccine by End of October. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 10:00   ET



BRIAN FUNG, CNN TECH REPORTER: Allison's relationship with Trump may have played a role here, and that certainly fits a pattern with Trump having inserted himself into Amazon's bid for a Pentagon cloud contract, for example, and as you said, the AT&T-Time Warner deal as well.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Brian Fung, thanks very much. We know you'll stay on top of it.

A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


This morning, we are following extreme weather affecting so many millions of Americans, really, from the gulf coast to the west coast. Take a look at that, that is Tropical Storm Sally barreling toward Louisiana and Mississippi. It's expected to grow into a hurricane before making

landfall on Tuesday.

Officials are warning it could bring with it life-threatening storm surge.

SCIUTTO: Goodness, it's early in the storm season and, of course, it's early in the forest fire season and, yet look what we're looking at on the west coast, devastating wildfires burning up and down the west coast.

So far, at least 35 people confirmed dead. The concern is that dozens more remain missing. This is across California, Oregon, Washington State, homes being incinerated. Dense smoke from those fires has caused major problems for firefighters battling these flames, and they are moving so quickly. It's dangerous out there. We're going to have more on that in a moment.

HARLOW: Let's begin this hour with Tropical Storm Sally. Our Ed Lavandera joins us in New Orleans ahead of the storm. Ed, how is the city preparing and what are they preparing for in terms of the modeling that is showing that it can really go either way?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, state and local officials are urging people to have about three days worth of emergency supplies on hand as Tropical Storm Sally spins out in the Gulf of Mexico. It's expected to strengthen into a hurricane. The question is how strong of a hurricane. Will it be a strong Category 1 or low level Category 2 hurricane? That is what we're expecting to see here throughout the course of the day. But officials here are urging that if you wait too long to prepare for this, as this storm intensifies, it will be too late to get what you need.

There have been evacuation orders that have been sent out throughout various parts of Southeast Louisiana here. Here in the city of New Orleans, evacuation orders have been issued for those areas outside of the levee protection system. Remember, in the years after Hurricane Katrina, this region spent billions of dollars of fortifying the city with a levee protection system, so all of that is in play here in this storm, but those warnings are going out across Southeast Louisiana as well into Mississippi as well.

And what is eerie about this storm is that it's following a very similar path to Hurricane Katrina that ravaged this area 15 years ago. That is coming into this corner of Southeast Louisiana and Waveland, Mississippi, and Bay St. Louis, all expected to see heavy downpours as this is a slow-moving storm so flooding will be of great concern throughout much of this region here in the next day or so.

Landfall is expected sometime early Tuesday morning, but we should start seeing the effects later on this afternoon here on the gulf coast. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Always heightened concern there in New Orleans. Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.

All right, now to Oregon. At least ten people are dead, more than a dozen large wildfires continue to rage in that one state, one of many facing this. CNN's Martin Savidge joins us now from Portland.

I mean, the speed of this, the scale of this, the deaths already, the missing people, it's just hard to imagine, I think, for folks watching from afar.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. It's very clear, Jim, that despite their best effort, the heroic effort, fire crews in the state of Oregon are overwhelmed and they continue to be -- and there's so many things that make this fire, 34 them actually, burning in the state a unique threat.

For instance, Portland, Oregon here, there are a number of fires that are burning in the direction of Oregon's largest city. It's got a population of roughly 2 million to 3 million people. So, the fire station here just one of them in the city is standing by to protect the city itself.

Elsewhere though, fire crews, fire officials are pleading for more assets to be brought to bear. They need more fire trucks, they need more hoses, they need more personnel, they need more air assets. Because, truly, right now, they are struggling to keep up with the burning that is taking place around this state. Marion County is where the video we're showing you now, this is one of the areas about an hour-and-a-half south of the Creek fire. They've had four fatalities down there. The devastation pretty complete but very similar to what you're seeing in other areas.

Everyone remarks how quickly this all moved in the state of Oregon. They are not accustomed to this. This is not California. And so now, the governor is saying, close to a million acres have burned, half a million people have been forced in some way under some kind of emergency evacuation order since 10 percent of the population.

Here is one woman who managed to get back home. She found her home still there but a lot of everything else was not.



PATTI CANDELL, MEHAMA, OREGON RESIDENT: It was just devastating, devastating. And then to think that, you know, our neighbors back here, their house is totally untouched, which is crazy. Lynn (ph), of course, our neighbor there, there's nothing left of her place. But, yes, never in a million years would you think something like this would happen. It was just totally surreal.

I don't know how many tears I've cried, you know, before all of this happen. It's like I don't know if I can cry anymore.


SAVIDGE: The air pollution, the smoke is considered hazardous. Schools are closed in Portland. It's making travel difficult. They can't fly. The fire fighting aircraft and the crews on the ground are having trouble seeing as they maneuver. It truly is a remarkably awful scene in Oregon. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: It really is. Martin, we're glad you're there. Thank you to you and your crew.

Let's focus now on the Riverside fire that is burning about 45 minutes southeast of Portland. It is forcing entire towns, communities to flee with very little notice. And includes the city of Estacada. You see it right on this map. Residents still there are still, this morning, under evacuation orders.

The mayor, Sean Drinkwine, joins me now on the phone for an update. Good morning, Mayor, and thank you for being here.

Can we begin with what Governor Kate Brown said was a little bit of reprieve for this state in terms of the weather turning, making it more manageable for the firefighters to try to contain the blaze even though more than a million acres have burned in the state? Is that helping at all where you are?

MAYOR SEAN DRINKWINE, ENTACADA, OR: Yes, Poppy, I think it has. If you take a look at the weather (INAUDIBLE) here, there's dampness in the air now, and we're seeing the smoke dissipate slightly. Some of our people have been able to go check on their homes, which has been a blessing in a whole. I mean, it's nice to see that things are calming down a little bit, but we're still on an Evac 3 in our city, which makes it hard to get people in and out of there, and a lot of people are worried.

I've been spending most of my time in the evacuation areas of Oregon, staying with the people, trying to keep them calm until we can all get them back into their home.

But I want to reach out and just say, you know, it was great to see people fighting for their property and their houses. When we got in the hairy part there, maybe the second night of the fire when firefighters were pulling out to re-evaluate their situation, a lot of residents went in there with trucks and water trucks and were putting out fires in backyards to keep it from burning, the little city of Estacada. So this is really a moment.

HARLOW: It is. And you went back, as I understand, or you were planning at least to go back yourself on Friday night to see the damage. Did you make it?

DRINKWINE: I did. I went in and out continuously every hour on the hour. I tried to stay close enough that I could keep an eye on the fire and where it was progressing. At times, the sky was aglow. It was very frightening for me to see that. Our little town has worked very hard and kept ourselves, you know, family and everything for so long. And then to see that in an instant where it could all disappear, it was heartbreaking to me.

HARLOW: And you said, I never thought that I would see a day like this. Everyone in your town was put under this level three, go now, evacuation order, which doesn't give them much time to gather anything before they get their families out. Are most people still gone and do you know the extent of any homes lost or any deaths as a result?

DRINKWINE: Well, last night, I was in town actually check out the situation, there were a lot of people trying to help. I talked to the incident commander with the fire department. We took a look at the situation out there, kind of got a layout of where we're at. They are holding the fire just outside of Estacada and they're starting to push back, which is a good sign.

I've looked around. I can't see that there was any loss of life as of yet. But the houses -- I've been told when the actual smoke clears and the damage can be seen, it's going to be devastating.

HARLOW: Gosh, yes.

DRINKWINE: So I want to be there for the people when that time comes.

HARLOW: Of course, because you're right, they can't even see it right now, and that smoke has caused, at least on Friday, the air in Oregon, the air quality was deemed the worst in the world. Can you talk about the impact of that on the people coupled with COVID and the necessity to wear masks for that anyways? DRINKWINE: Well, I think that's a major part of this. We're all out here. We're trying to certainly distance and keep masked and everything and with the smoke so intense. A lot of people have been getting sick and nausea and headaches, and it's something that we -- it's really unbelievable that all of this is happening at the same time.

I mean, we're trying to get around this the best we can. We're keeping masks in stock. But when you're out here and the smoke is so thick, it makes it really, really hard to breathe.


HARLOW: Let me just get your response, because you are a local official in Oregon. I'm sure you saw The Washington Post editorial by Julie Parrish, a former Oregon Republican lawmaker, criticizing the state government, criticizing local leaders and saying part of what has led to the dire situation like this is, quote, gross mismanagement of Oregon's forests. What do you say to that as someone who leads on the ground?

DRINKWINE: I think, you know -- I don't want to be on either side of this as far as who is to blame for this. This is a crisis for all of us. I think deciding who should have done what at what time is not what we should be looking at. What we should be looking at is the how we're going to recover from this. And that would be my main concern is that we look at getting funds to the people that were most affected.

I've lost a lot of houses on the outskirts of Estacada that I've heard. I want to make sure that we focus on getting them the funds they need to get back up and running. These people have been through a lot.

HARLOW: I know the governor said she had a productive call with the president just a few days ago so I hope you're getting everything you need. Mayor, good luck, and thank you.

DRINKWINE: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.


SCIUTTO: Those folks are working very hard. We wish them the best of luck.

The wildfires in California have now killed at least 24 people, burned more than 3.3 million acres, almost five times the area of Rhode Island. Think about that for a moment.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is in Arcadia, California. Listen, Stephanie, you know, the more I see the pictures there, you hear the stories, you look at the satellite images, it's just hard to fathom the scale. Are folks able to get some of this under control?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is massive. And now that the sun is here, it's up, we can show you just how smoky and hazy it is. We were able to tell it was while it was still dark out here. This is the Bobcat fire, which is a Los Angeles suburb where we in the foothills. And we can see overnight a glow on the top of this ridge here, behind it. And this is a fire that's 6 percent. You've had some 33,000 acres burned here. And now with the sun coming up, we've seen some residents trying to come up here and see if they can get closer.

We do know that this area is evacuated for the most part. Some 300 homes have been evacuated here. We also know though throughout the state that some 4,100 structures have been destroyed. As you would expect, firefighters are just tired. They would love to be done, but they can't be. Many are having to work 24-hour shifts because there just aren't enough personnel to bring in and replace those workers who are out there on the frontlines of these fires and battling them.

All of this while at the same time you've got this air quality issue and the heat that we have seen in much of California as well, which is not making it better. So the air quality is bad, which makes the masks twofold because you need some sort of protection for your lungs because of the coronavirus but also at the same time because of the fact that as we've been standing here, I've had ash landing on my jacket. It's coming down and it's in the breeze. So that's another issue. If you're inhaling that, that can be a problem.

Also worth noting too that Governor Gavin Newsom will be meeting with President Trump when he comes to visit California today, Newsom and the mayor of Los Angeles making it very clear that this has a lot to do with the climate crisis while Trump has not said anything like that. So it should be interesting to see what we learn from that today. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Stephanie Elam, thank you very much for that reporting from California.

Still to come for us, the CEO of Pfizer says the pharmaceutical giant should know the results of its trial by the end of October. So will it work? We will soon know, they say.

Also, the president holding last night his first indoor rally in nearly three months. One doctor calling it, quote, negligent homicide.

SCIUTTO: It's just not safe. All the science tells us that.

Well, later, Big Ten's big decision, a vote set for later today on whether that huge conference will resume college football.



SCIUTTO: Lots of new developments in the race for a coronavirus vaccine, most of it good news. Pfizer now says they will know if their vaccine works by the end of next month. AstraZeneca, which had to stop its trial, is now resuming trials. A volunteer came down with an unexplained illness, some progress there.

HARLOW: Yes, that's good. Moderna is also making strides to diversify its participant pool. Let's go to our Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Good morning, Elizabeth.

Let's start with this latest news from Pfizer's CEO, one of the first times we've heard extensively from him. What stood out to you?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: One of the things that stood out was he talked about not taking money, Poppy. He talked about not taking money for development, for phase three trials. He talked about taking money -- we know that Pfizer has only taken money from manufacturing and distributing the vaccine once it's done.

Let's take a listen to what the CEO said.


ALBERT BOURLA, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, PFIZER: The reason why I did it was because I wanted to liberate our scientists from any bureaucracy. When you get money from someone, that always comes with strings.

And also I wanted to keep Pfizer out of politics, by the way.


COHEN: Now, I want to make two points here. I think this is really important. Pfizer is getting a lot of money from U.S. taxpayers. They are getting nearly 2 billion, that's billion with a B, $2 billion to manufacture and distribute this. That's about the same or even more than other companies are getting to do phase three trials and to manufacture and distribute. So they are still getting a lot of money from U.S. taxpayers.

Also, can you flip around what that CEO is saying.


You can say, gee, they are doing these phase three trials and the U.S. government doesn't sort of have eye line on those trials as much as they do for other trials because they don't have money involved. So they're not as much -- the government is not as much of a partner.

And there are some concerns about all of these trials. Pfizer has really struggled to get the percentage or racial minorities that they should be getting. And when I talked to government officials about that, they're like, we don't know what's going on. We don't really have a lot of insight into their trial. That is not always the best thing to be separate from the government.

HARLOW: That's interesting. I hadn't thought about the other side of that, that you mentioned, Elizabeth, right? He says it's to stay politically independent. But there is another side to that, as you know.

Before you go, what about Moderna? I think the first, one of them, to slow down their trial, saying, we need more minorities, especially black Americans. It sounds like they have got a higher percentage now, at least. COHEN: Right. These trials have really struggled to get minority participation, which is needed for several reasons, one of which is that it's going to be tough to finish these trials without minority participation because you need people who are actually getting COVID and minorities are much more likely to get COVID than white people.

So let's take a look at what Moderna did. They slowed down their enrollment so they could take the time to get minorities. That takes time. It's harder to get minorities to join than it is to get white people to join.

So let's take a look. If you look at the most recent week, the week of September 7th, their new enrollments were 22 percent Hispanic and 11 percent black. The previous week, they were 17 percent Hispanic and 9 percent black. So you can see they really did get quite a bit better in the course of just one week. Poppy, Jim?

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for staying on top of it.

Joining us now, Dr. Jay Varkey, he is Associate Professor of Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.

Dr. Varkey, it was interesting to hear the Pfizer CEO say publicly he wanted to keep his company out of politics as it pursues a, you know, widely anticipated vaccine to help combat a global pandemic here. I just wonder what's your level of confidence that politics are staying out of this?

I mean, we've seen numerous examples already, the president and others pushing hydroxychloroquine when there was not the data to back it up, rushing, it seems, the approval of convalescent plasma as a therapeutic and exaggerating the health benefits of that from the chair of the FDA, right, right before the RNC.

So we've seen other examples. How should folks be confident that if and when this is available it will be safe and that's because of the science, not because of the politics?

DR. JAY VARKEY, INFECTIOUS DISEASES PHYSICIAN: Jim, you nailed it. I mean, if past performance predicts future, then I remain skeptical that politics can be kept out of this race for a safe and effective vaccine. But us in society can actually take that responsibility if we trust the science, if we actually don't rush this process, if we actually let these phase three studies, of which there's eight that are actually in advanced stages right now. If we let that process take its course, if we allow those results to actually undergo peer review and scrutiny by our top scientists, then we can actually be more confident with the general public when a safe and effective vaccine is introduced.

I think that's critical. Because, again, identification of a safe and effective vaccine will only start the end game of this pandemic. And as you note, this isn't going to be like Iron Man snapping his fingers and, you know, returning the world back to what it was like before COVID-19. The change is going to be gradual and we still have a significant amount of legwork to do to gain trust among public, especially the 30 percent to 40 percent who have already said that they actually would refuse a COVID-19 vaccine.

HARLOW: I know, it's such a stunning number, right? Never mind that there is such, Dr. Varkey, difference between a vaccine and vaccination, not only getting people to trust about it, but what about the distribution channel because the Pfizer CEO himself also said in that interview, I think it's going to be very difficult for the government to do itself in terms of distribution? How -- what does the government, what does the private sector need to do to ensure that it's not just the wealthy and the privileged who are at the front of the line here?

VARKEY: I think, Poppy, that needs to be upfront as part of the conversation. I think the National Academy of Medicine, in addition to several other groups, has actually taken some good steps at least in terms of starting that conversation. So this is publicly available. At least their scheme in terms of how a vaccine would be prioritized in terms of different tiers.

Because, to your point, we're not going to be able to deploy 330 million doses of a vaccine all at one time. There will have to be priorities. And, again, first and foremost will be addressing frontline health care workers. Again, they have been at the forefront of this real since the pandemic widely hit the United States in March.

But with that tiered approach, there's an invitation for public comments.


So I would strongly encourage society to actually view that because that needs to be a key part of conversation.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Varkey, I just want to show some images of the president's rally in Nevada yesterday, indoors, thousands of people, most without masks, shaking hands, taking pictures, et cetera. And, listen, I know -- I think we'll play those pictures in a moment. I know that folks are sick of the restrictions. All of us are. Just tell us from a medicine perspective why this is risky and dangerous.

VARKEY: It's risky, it's dangerous and it's appalling. The fact that we're six months into this and still having elected officials putting members of society and the country at large at risk is really unacceptable. Again, this is in direct violation of the state of Nevada's emergency ban on gathering of 50 or more people.

And the reason why large indoor political rallies have every risk factor for serving as a super spreader event is that it's a lot of people packed together for prolonged periods indoors without masks. These are the five Ps that Ed Yong recently described in The Atlantic. So, again, people in prolonged, poorly ventilated, protection-free proximity. And the key is that, in a super spreader event or super spread setting, the risk is not just to those that would like to attend a political rally. Hart County has had greater than 60,000 cases of COVID-19, 1,400 in the last seven days alone. This rally likely drew attendees from California, Arizona, Utah. What happens when those individuals go home to their families and five days from now maybe asymptomatically spreading this virus to their spouse, to their children? What happens when their spouse goes to work or the children go to school and infect a high-risk teacher or a grandparent? This is why this is so critical.

And, again, there's one thing we've learned during this pandemic. The virus doesn't care if you're in a red state or a blue state or if you're a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent. This virus spreads by people, and it kills people. So this is the reason why we need to keep six feet away from people and we need to stay -- need to wear masks and stay out of high-risk areas, including bars, dining restaurants and indoor political rallies.

SCIUTTO: And just as the science shows that those super-spreader events spread it, the simple steps help stop the spread. Dr. Jay Varkey, thanks very much.

VARKEY: My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: Well, one Pennsylvania county voted for Obama twice, then Trump ran and he ran away with a win there. How about this time around? We're going to go there and ask.