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At This Hour

CDC: Vaccinated Americans No Longer Need Masks in Most Cases; Trump Ally Stefanik Replaces Ousted Cheney After House GOP Vote; Bipartisan Agreement Reached to Create Jan. 6 Commission. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired May 14, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us.

Fourteen months after the coronavirus forced the country to shut down, we are officially in a new phase in this pandemic, the phase when more and more people are going to take the mask off and a phase where life is going to start feeling more and more normal.

The CDC announcing yesterday that it is changing masking guidelines for people fully vaccinated. No masks or social distancing needed, both outside and indoors, full stop.

President Biden, he calls this a watershed moment and a great day for America. But this day also now brings a host of new questions about how we really can live our lives safely right now, with so many people still not fully vaccinated.

CDC director offering this note of caution this morning.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I'm cautiously optimistic that we are seeing this -- the great, great end point in sight. I think we have to be humble and say that this virus, this pandemic has given us twists and turns. We can't keep our -- get our eye off the ball. And we do have to continue to monitor really carefully.


BOLDUAN: Millions of Americans should feel liberated with this new guidance. As I mentioned, there are still lots of unanswered questions though that come with it. What does this mean for kids that can't be vaccinated yet? How do businesses navigate this now? How do we know people are vaccinated or not when we can take our masks off now? Do we need to know?

Remember, only 36 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. The percentage of those at risk, though -- risk of getting really sick has dropped dramatically since the most vulnerable populations were vaccinated first. But still, what about the other 60 plus percent not fully vaccinated?

CNN's Miguel Marquez joining us with some perspective on this.

Miguel, you've been talking to people here in New York about this news. What are they telling you?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, one, they are thrilled not to have to wear masks every day. Welcome to New York. There will be an ambulance, fire engine or police car standing by.

But here in Times Square, about 80 percent of the people out here on a beautiful spring day this may be the nicest day we've had so far this year, are still wearing masks. There is a great concern even though they're vaccinated about other family members that may not be able to be vaccinated for whatever reason, o aren't vaccinated, the kids and the like.

So there is great concern. Also, people have just been through absolute hell for the last year. They have lost family members. They've loved ones. They have seen their city just brought to its knees. They're very, very afraid to let loosen entirely.

We spoke to a couple of couple that are going to give you a sense of that.


STUART MOSS, NEW YORK RESIDENT: I lost a parent to COVID. So, you know, I had a personal loss there. Early on, I was very concerned. I don't think I understood the risk and all of the measures should be taken. So I just kind of took every precaution whether it was logical or not.. I think I have a higher confidence now.

GINA DIFRISCO, NEW YORK RESIDENT: It definitely says we're finally getting -- I don't want to say back to normal because there is nothing normal about any of this, but we're getting better when it comes to what the situation is.


MARQUEZ: So, that is the big thing for many people we spoke to. Yes, it's great that we don't have to wear masks outside or indoors. But I'm still going to carry my mask. I'm still going to wear it when I go indoors because most places still want you to wear it indoors, and most people feel more comfortable with people who are masked.

So that sense of when we get back to normal, many parents saying, look, until the kids go back to school in September, they're there full time, we will not get that sense of normality.

So, I think it is baby steps for now. But even though it's a small step, it's a small thing, it sure feels big out there -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: It sure does. It's good to see you, Miguel. Thank you very much for that.

This also poses, as Miguel was kind of pointing to, new questions for businesses across the country. Should they drop any mask requirement for customers, any and all? Or is it not so simple?

CVS, Walgreens, Macy's, they are saying that they are now reviewing their requirements in stores. Kroger, Home Depot, Starbucks, for example, they are saying they will still require shoppers and employees to continue wearing masks.


As for air travel, the TSA says its mandatory mask requirement is staying in place for now.

Let's get over to CNN's Pete Muntean on this aspect of it.

Pete, what you are hearing from airlines? What they're doing -- what they're going to be doing with the new CDC guidance?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, airlines will keep enforcing mask man mandates on planes even if you're full vaccinated. And that's such a key caveat here. You know, the TSA says the transportation-wide mask mandate, federally mandated during the Biden administration, will stay in place. That means planes, trains, buses, boats, also in terminals until September 13th. That was actually just extended, set to expire earlier this week originally.

Here is the statement from TSA: This federal requirement through the transportation system seeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to work closely with the CDC to evaluate the need for these directives.

How people will react to this still remains to be seen. The FAA says it's received 1,300 reports of unruly passengers onboard commercial flights in the last three months alone.

And in an exclusive interview, FAA administrator Steve Dickson tells me that is a serious uptick. Here's what he said.


MUNTEAN: Are you at all concerned with summer travel on the horizon?

STEPHEN DICKSON, FAA ADMINISTRATOR: I'm always concerned. We have to be vigilant on safety issues. And the aviation system that we have in the United States is the safest form of travel in human history, and we need to do everything that we can always to make sure that it stays that way. And again, that's what this zero tolerance policy is about to make sure we get the situation under control.


MUNTEAN: Now, this is all happening as more people are coming back to flying. The TSA says 1.74 million people pass through security at America's airports on Thursday. That is a new record of the pandemic. The head of the Association of Flight Attendants tells me there is no

confusion about this new guidance. Masks still required on any form of transportation, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, they're going to have to continue reminding people of that, with all of these headlines.

It's good to see you, Pete. Thank you very much.

Let's get to more of the questions now raised by this big moment.

Joining me right now is Dr. Monica Gandhi, chief professor of medicine and associate chief of infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco.

And Dr. Leana Wen, CNN medical analyst, former Baltimore City health commissioner.

Thank you both for being here.

Dr. Gandhi, first, your reaction to this major moment and the announcement by the CDC.

DR. MONICA GANDHI, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE AND ASOSCIATE CHIEF OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, UCSF: You know, I think it was extremely prudent to do this. Why? Because we really do want to motivate vaccinations. We are getting to more normal point. And the vaccinated person, they're very protected themselves and they also cannot transmit or it's extremely unlikely for them to transmit.

For the unvaccinated, I know there's a concern, that, oh, okay, there's all these unvaccinated people around them not masking. Luckily, masks protect you. I have written multiple papers on masking since the beginning of the pandemic, and really what we're trying to get the equation to change, which it did on November 9th by the CDC is masks protect you as an unvaccinated individual.

So the unvaccinated person will be safe as they continue to mask.

BOLDUAN: And that is part of the change. We heard so long it protects your neighbor. It also, we did -- the science has changed as you've written about, Dr. Gandhi, shown us that it also does protect you very much.

Dr. Wen, you are much more skeptical. Why are you not happy with this move? You think it could actually make people less likely to get vaccinated. Tell me why.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, this change was really abrupt. The CDC went from 0 to 100 overnight. First, they were saying even vaccinated people and you had to be wearing masks in certain outdoor settings.

They went from that to essentially saying we don' mask mandates at all, because if we're not checking for vaccination status and we're now making wearing a mask or distancing optional, that we're saying we're leaving it to the honor code and we don't know who is going to be masked and who is vaccinated and who is not.

So, I really worry that we are actually reducing the incentive here. I think to Dr. Gandhi's point, I think we would be incentivizing people if we're also saying, here is proof of vaccination, you can take off the mask. A lot of people will say, well, what's in it for me if I get my vaccinated? I may as well take off my mask now.

BOLDUAN: This kind of -- the whole concept of the honor code and checking for vaccination status, that is actually some of the questions raised. There are a list enough questions as we continue moving into this unprecedented moment.

And we ask viewers, ask folks on Twitter to kind of send in their questions for where -- what they're thinking of it at this time. I want to dive into a few of them with you.

Dr. Gandhi, take this one. This is from one person on Twitter. They ask, to Dr. Wen's point -- why would I unmask indoors with a bunch of people that I don't know if they are vaccinated or not?


Can you speak to that? Talk to me where you know the science is.

GANDHI: Right. So, I assume this is a vaccinated person. And that where the science is basically we have these clinical trials that show the vaccines were effective. And that word is called efficacious in epidemiology. And then you want to know, okay, how does it work in the real world setting? That word is called effective.

We have study after study including two that the CDC cited yesterday from their own work in the MMWR about how incredibly effective the vaccines are in the real world. Especially as cases come down, you're less likely to even be exposed at all. And they are so effective even in older people 65 and older. That was one study they presented yesterday.

And just across the planet. In Qatar, there is a study that showed even against variants, these vaccines were extremely effective. 97.4 percent. So they're so effective you just protected yourself by getting vaccinated.

Then there is this force around you that is very unlikely that you'll transmit. A lot of data shows that you have a reduced chance of what is called asymptomatic infection, even having a little in your nose to pass on to someone else. So all of that data coming together means you as a vaccinated person protects everyone around you and protects yourself.

So, when you go into a store as a vaccinated person, you can feel very protected yourself and also doing good-bye others by not being able to transmit. And, yes, if there are people that choose not to mask inside that store, you as an unvaccinated person should be wearing a mask and can wear a mask and given all of that data that we now have that mask protect you, you're protected.

I think I have more trust in the American people and we talked about this with the outdoor --

BOLDUAN: We have. I'm far more cynical than you. That's why I love having you on. You give American people more credit. I have to learn from you.

GANDHI: I don't think we're going to rush people and try to conflict (ph) them. I think we have an honor to help each other.

BOLDUAN: That's why I need to keep listening to you because I feel like I'm growing as a person.

Dr. Wen, there is also questions about schools. Dave in Massachusetts put in this question wondering about the impact of schools, and here's what he asked.

He said: Question from a middle schoolteacher. How will this apply to fully vaccinated teachers in front of unvaccinated students? And he adds: My first couple eighth graders got their first shots today.

This is a really tough area and really fraught and super complicated. How do you think schools should handle this?

WEN: Well, I think there are several ways to approach it. One way is to say that now that teacher is vaccinated, it's up to the teacher to choose whether they want to keep on wearing a mask in class. On the other hand, you can also say that well, maybe there is a modeling behavior issue. If we're expecting the students still are keeping on their masks, maybe the teacher should model that will behavior.

But I think there is another point here too and actually I want to go back to Dr. Gandhi's point about people masking to protect themselves. Yeah, it does protect you if you wear a mask, but there are some who may not be able to wear a mask. I have a 1-year-old. What am I going to do when I bring my 1-year-old into a grocery store? She cannot wear a mask, and I used to feel comfortable doing that because other people are not. I felt like we were able to protect her.

But I think we have to keep in mind that there are a lot of vulnerable people still in our society. There are children under 12 who are not yet able to be vaccinated. There are other people who are vaccinated but are immuno-compromised and do not receive the protection of the vaccine.

And I think a policy like this that basically lets people walk around maskless, it ends up exposing those individuals who are not yet able to be vaccinated.

BOLDUAN: And you're hitting on something that we have a lot of questions about. About what does this mean for kids who are unvaccinated and under 12, the immuno-compromised? What -- a 1-year- old is impossible to get a 1-year-old to wear a mask. But my 3-year- old, my 6-year-old, they really do need to wear a mask to protect themselves.

Dr. Gandhi, give me your take on that. GANDHI: Well, OK, I think the one thing we get confused on with COVID-19 is that your risk of infection depends on you as a vaccinated person, you have reduced risks, and then also community case rates.

So, for example, I also have young children. They can't get vaccinated yet. They'll be protected as the cases go down and down like they were in 2019, because that's exactly what happens when you get to more and more people being vaccinated that cases go down.

I live in a city where there are 20 cases and 900,000 people yesterday. So it could have been linked to case rates that could have been a decision that the CDC made. But they're banking on the fact that that's what vaccines do.

So my child is protected because the case rates are very low. And there's not -- I think we get this misunderstanding that it's all about you being vaccinated.


This is actually concept in infectious disease of the approaching herd immunity that I -- an unvaccinated person, an un-immune person is protected by another's immunity.

So, I think by fall where the case rates are, I don't think that children are going to be needing masking because they are going to be protected by low community transmission.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate this conversation with both of you. Thank you very much. And I'll continue leaning on you, Dr. Gandhi, to make me more trusting in my fellow Americans.

GANDHI: I will try.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. So good to see you, Dr. Wen. Thank you.

All right. Coming up, a rogue Republican is out. A Trump loyalist is in. So what is next for the house GOP after voting in Congresswoman Stefanik to replace Liz Cheney? That is coming up.

Also ahead, growing fears in Gaza that an invasion by Israeli troops could happen at any moment. As the two sides trade missile and rocket attacks. We're live from Israel with the very latest on the conflict.

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: At this hour, there are two big developments on Capitol Hill.

House Republicans just voted to replace Liz Cheney with a loyal Donald Trump ally, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, officially elevating Stefanik to be the third highest ranking Republican in House leadership and officially stamping the Republican Party as more loyal to Donald Trump than to conservative principles.

Also this morning, a very rare moment, Republicans and Democrats in the House actually striking a bipartisan deal. A deal to create an independent bipartisan commission that we have talked so much about here to investigate the January 6th insurrection.

Let's start there with CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Manu, I saw this when you were -- when you sent this alert out. This is a big deal what they came out w the scope seems narrow. The makeup truly bipartisan. What more are you hearing about it?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it is significant and has a good chance of becoming law. It has to pass both chambers of Congress. There is still uncertainty, because Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, has not signed off on this agreement even though he tasks the Republicans to negotiate this.

John Katko, who did cut the deal with the Democrats who is in charge of negotiation, Bennie Thompson. And Thompson and Katko announced this bipartisan deal to create this commission, to investigate what happened on January 6th.

So, just in particulars here. It's a ten-member commission, a bipartisan commission that will be split five members from each side. These cannot be current government office holders. That means they have to be outside the walls of Congress. That's a very important point.

They'll have subpoena authority and equal subpoena authority. They have to issue a subpoena. And as well, they need the report done by the end of this year.

Now, Kevin McCarthy wanted a broader scope. He wanted an investigation into all sorts of events from last summer, look at the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as Antifa, in addition to January. This says they will investigate what happened on January 6th and the influencing factors that may provoked the attack on our democracy.

So, interesting development here. We'll see if the leadership is onboard with the Republican member cut here. But it needs to pass both chambers of Congress, including 60 votes in the 50/50 Senate, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And by the end of the year is a super tight line when you talk about a commission like this.

RAJU: Yeah.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about this, though, before you go, Elise Stefanik, now number three in the house, what happened in that vote this morning? What does it show more importantly, Manu?

RAJU: Well, it shows where the conference works. It's in line with Donald Trump. Stefanik made clear in a resounding vote in her favor against conservative challenger Chip Roy, she came out and she was asked whether or not Donald Trump is the leader of this Republican Party, something that Liz Cheney who has been ousted from the leader, said he was not the leader of the party.

But Stefanik had a different message.


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): I believe that voters determine the leader of the Republican Party and President Trump is the leader that they look to. I support President Trump. Voters support President Trump. He is an important voice in our Republican Party. And we look forward to working with him.


RAJU: Of course, she is the more moderate members in Congress ousting Liz Cheney. More conservative on her voting record, ousting -- beating Chip Roy, more conservative on his voting record. But it shows one reason perhaps the biggest reason why she got the job, her loyalty in alliance with Donald Trump -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: No kidding. Thank you so much for your reporting.

Like Manu just explained, what we are seeing from House Republicans right now is a far cry from the Republican Party of honestly just really a few years ago.

So, how did it get from the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan to the party of Donald Trump and the big lie?

CNN's Fareed Zakaria is diving into this in his latest documentary. It's called "A Radical Rebellion: The Transformation of the GOPP." Watch.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST (voice-over): Let me give you some snapshots of the Republican electorate today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to stop watching media and start getting the facts.

CROWD: Four more years!

ZAKARIA: In a CNN poll conducted after January 6, 70 percent of Republicans said that they did not believe that Joe Biden won the election legitimately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's too much evidence of fraud.

CROWD: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

ZAKARIA: Over 40 percent believe Bill Gates is planning to use the COVID-19 vaccine as a pretext to implant micro chips in people's brains in order to track them.

And roughly one in four Republicans agree with the key tenet of the QAnon conspiracy, that a group of Satan worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our media and politics.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe Biden is the biggest pedophile on the face of the planet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not a conspiracy. It's fact.

CROWD: Fight for America! Fight for America!

ZAKARIA: It becomes impossible to deny, the Republican Party today has been infected by a series of crazy conspiracy theories. Why?


BOLDUAN: The documentary, "A Radical Rebellion: The transformation of the GOP" that, begins this Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Ahead for us, President Biden, he's been largely focused on the pandemic response and his domestic agenda. But the violence between Israel and Palestinians is demanding attention now. How will he respond as the two sides teeter on the brink of all out war?