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At This Hour

U.S. Cases & Deaths Drop to Lowest Levels Since Last Summer; CNN: Wuhan Lab Illnesses Raise New Questions About COVID Origins; Belarus Accused of "Hijacking" Plane to Arrest Journalist; At Least A Dozen Mass Shootings Across U.S. Over Weekend; Senate Republicans Poised to Filibuster Commission Legislation. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 24, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here's what we're watching at this hour.

Falling fast, and that is great news. The new numbers that show America is turning a corner on this pandemic. And it couldn't come at a better time.

Did China lie? A new U.S. intelligence report raises questions about the origins of the coronavirus.

Showdown in the sky. A commercial jet forced to land. The journalist that was taken into custody. The dictator accused of scrambling a fighter jet to hijack an airliner.

And so much love for Lefty. Phil Mickelson making history with his awesome win this weekend. The also amazing video of the moment. The one news story everybody can cheer for today.


BOLDUAN: Thanks so much for joining us, everybody.

AT THIS HOUR, the United States is making incredible gains in the fight against the coronavirus. By virtually every measure, America is heading in the right direction. Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, and the unofficial kickoff to summer.

New cases down 56 percent in the last month, their lowest level since last June. Deaths down 23 percent in the last four weeks, that is a lowest they've been since last July. Hospitalizations also down nearly 30 percent over the last month.

And on the vaccine front, the U.S. is hitting a new milestone. Nearly half of the entire population has now received at least one dose. Nearly 40 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated.

But the numbers of vaccine doses administered each day has fallen from more than three million at that high point a month ago really to about 1.8 million right now. But overall, these trends show that we are reaching the long sought hope on the horizon, that always felt just a little bit out of reach, but really it does not feel that way anymore.

This weekend, we also saw evidence of that, crowds back in arenas. Including here in New York City where 15,000 fans were in Madison Square Garden to watch the Knicks playoff game. Just hearing the roar of a crowd is a start willing amazing sensation.

This great news comes as an intelligence report is going to fuel further debate right now over the origins of the coronavirus. The report finds several scientists in a lab in Wuhan China were hospitalized with an unknown illness in November of 2019. That is a month before they reported the first cases of COVID.

Joining me right now is David Culver, CNN's David Culver in Shanghai with more on this intelligence report.

And what you can take from it, can't extrapolate, can't what we do with it now. What are you learning, David?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it doesn't bring us right to the origin of this virus which I know most folks are trying to figure out, and would want to know, especially the WHO experts and really scientists around the world.

But here's what we can tell you from this report, Kate, is that it suggests that the researchers working at the Wuhan Institute of Virology -- and you've got to remember Wuhan is where the original outbreak of this virus was -- were apparently so sick that they had to go to the hospital in November of 2019. Now that is a significant amount of time, several weeks really before this outbreak really took hold. And Chinese officials have been pushing back on this for more than a year now. They have suggested that it did not leak from a lab.

The original source was believed to have been the Huanan seafood market. That is an area that was shut down rather quickly January 1st of 2020 and scrubbed clean. But now, this new intelligence is suggesting with even more fingers pointing at the possibility that this originated in a lab and potentially leaked.

The Chinese officials though are adamant that this is not how this played out. I want you to look at one quote that was put in "Global Times". Again, remember this is state run media. And this is the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab who was quoted.

He says that he's read it, regarding the report. He says it's a complete lie. The claims are groundless. The lab has not been aware of this situation. And I don't even know where such information came from.

Now I want to show you some video of when we were most recently down in Wuhan. My team and I traveled there for the one year anniversary of the outbreak.

And you'll notice this is a structure that is heavily fortified. It's rather secure. You can't get that close to it. We were able to drive past it, and that is as close as we got it to. That is in part because it's a biosafety lab. But, Kate, it also is suggestive of them not wanting us anywhere near


BOLDUAN: David, thank you so much for your reporting. Really appreciate it.

Let me get more on this now. Joining me now is Dr. Monica Gandhi.


She's an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco.

It's good to see you again, Dr. Gandhi.


BOLDUAN: David Culver has done some amazing reporting in Wuhan and his team. There's a lot to be learned about that intelligence report. And what you can and cannot extrapolate from it. One thing we do know is it raises more questions.

But I do want to ask you about just this moment that we're in here in the United States. New cases, hospitalizations, deaths down across the board. The former FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, he said over the weekend that at some point in June his belief is that we're going to probably approach one case per 100,000 per day.

What does that mean for all of us?

GANDHI: Well, it is amazing news. And it really came about, it started happening when we reached a 40 percent first dose vaccination rate on April 14th. The cases started coming down and down and down.

And now they've just -- it's very clear that they're almost coming down since we reached that 40 percent and now we're at 50 percent, first dose of the entire U.S. population. Sixty percent, if you want to just focus it in on adults who are eligible for the vaccine.

This is exactly what we have seen in countries that went faster than we. You get past the certain inflection point and the cases start plummeting. And, luckily, of course, so does severe disease.

So, it means a lot. It means that the summer is looking bright. And it means that when we get to that 10,000 or about 25,000 cases over the entire country, 10,000 was the metric that Dr. Fauci put in on April 16th that said, you know, the pandemic is at least in our country essentially almost over. And tat's where we're getting to. So it's very good news.

BOLDUAN: Yeah. And Gottlieb also said that with the infections and vaccine rates that we're looking at now, that kids don't need to wear masks outside anymore. I think science doesn't point that way, but that they still need to wear them in kind of crowded indoor school- like settings, if you will. You and I talked about masks many, many times.

What do you think of that assessment?

GANDHI: You know, I agree right now for indoor settings. Absolutely, you're right. The outdoor settings really -- summer camp is coming. The CDC has got to just please take away that summer camp guidance that indicates that children should be wearing masks outside. It's really quite difficult for doctors to contemplate kind of the heat implications of that. So, hope that happens this week.

In terms of inside, the way that the U.K. did it, I think this is really clear, and we've talked about this before too, go to a certain metric and then lift masks for children inside. And that metric that they used and they just lifted indoor masking for children on May 17th in their country, was about 2 to 3 hospitalizations over 100,000 people if you weren't counting cases. Or you can do it by cases if there is good testing in your area.

That sort of clean metric, right now, kids should be wearing them inside in most places that are not that metric. But that clean metric will allow us to think about going back to normal school in the fall. I think we're going to absolutely be there. And there are elements of children needing to especially young children with vowel formation and learning they don't need masks. And that's why the U.K. did this.

I'm going to follow our friends and say let's put in a clean metric and tell the country when indoor masking can be relieved for children.


BOLDUAN: On school, can I just -- let me just ask you on schools because New York city's mayor just this morning said, like, he made the announcement that come September, New York City public schools will be open five days a week with no remote option.

In your mind, I don't know, should this even be a question for the fall at this point?

GANDHI: I don't think it should even be a question that we should have normal school in the fall. The mental health effects some children have been real about prolonged closures. The question that is only remaining for the fall beyond normal in person learning is mask distancing and ventilation. And those three requirements are only if we don't have low cases in the setting of high immunity.

Right now, the U.K. has normal full on, no masks, you know, no ventilation, no distancing. That's what they're doing in their schools, because they had such a high immunity rate and low case rate. They made that decision for their country on May 17th. I think we'll be there by the fall in our country as well.

BOLDUAN: There is also a lot of talk over the weekend about what the CDC is calling relatively few case of the inflammation of the heart, myocarditis, being seen in young people who've been vaccinated. The CDC is looking into it. I want to play what the former acting CDC director, Dr. Richard Besser, said about it this morning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: At this point there is nothing to raise concern. This is telling me that the system is working. And we do know that COVID-19 infection itself can be very serious. We lost hundreds of -- hundreds of children.

There have been thousands who have been hospitalized, thousands who've developed an inflammatory syndrome.


One of the pieces of that can be myocarditis.

And so, what I would say is from perspective, the risk of COVID-19 is so much greater than any theoretical risk from the vaccine.


BOLDUAN: You know, Doctor, any concern about a negative side effect to this? Especially in kids. It's going to scare -- it's going to scare people. I mean, do you have concerns?

GANDHI: I do. I actually have a 13-year-old and I've given him the one dose. I'm going to wait on the second dose until I just see what the ACIP says. The reason on this is -- I definitely think I'll give it to him in the future. This is the way to think about myocarditis in children that could be linked from vaccines.

Let's investigate. These are already been shown in Israel. There's a couple of more reports that there's hinting coming out this week.

ACIP is very careful. They're watching this very carefully. We just want to make sure it's not linked to the vaccine because unlike in adults, the disease of COVID itself is not as severe in children. It's more severe in adults.

That's why a clot from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine put a warning sign on the vaccine but it was still rolled out. I doubt anything is going to change here, but possibly a warning. Just I would say let's give it seven days because the ACIP has already committed to looking at this close to look at any cases of myocarditis linked to children with the vaccine, because it may mean you want to extend the vaccine doses.

You may want to longer time between vaccine doses. Children have a very vigorous immune response. So I just like the ACIP want to watch this next couple weeks.

BOLDUAN: Good thing we have the ACIP and that the system is working. Good to see you, Doctor. Thank you very much.

Also at this hour, the international outrage is growing over what some describe as a state sponsored hijacking in Belarus. A commercial jet, a Ryanair flight was forced to land after a fighter jet was dispatched to escort the plate to Belarus's capital. The reason, well, at first, the flight crew was told because of a

possible security threat. But it since become clear it was something else entirely when a journalist and critic of the president of Belarus was taken off and arrested.

Joining me now with more detail on this is CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

Fred, what more are you learning about this?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there Kate. It is something that Europe hasn't seen in a very long time if ever at all. All this actually happened pretty late yesterday. And this jet was traveling from Athens in Greece and then supposed to fly to Lithuania.

But while it was in Belarusian airspace, actually shortly before it was supposed to leave Belarusian airspace, Belarusian authorities told the crew of the plane to divert to Minsk, which was, of course, the capital of Belarus, and to land there. They claimed that there was a bomb threat onboard. The plane that made a sharp right turn and sort of descending there.

Now this journalist and activist, Roman Protasevich, he pleaded with the crew not to do this, not to land there. But they said, according to their security protocols, that's what they had to do.

And then sure enough, the authorities took everybody off the plane and took him into custody.

And, you know, we spoke to some other opposition activists from Belarus and they say they're highly concerned that he could be tortured in Belarusian custody. He is also on a terrorism list from the Lukashenko regime which means he could face the death penalty down there as well.

Now, the Belarusian authorities claim that they did everything according to international protocol. U.S. and its allies certainly are not buying that.

I want to read you Secretary of State Blinken had to say about it. He said, quote, the United States strongly condemns the forced diversion of a flight between two E.U. member states and a subsequent removal and arrest of journalists in Minsk. We demand his immediate release. The shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens who were also onboard.

E.U. is going to meet in a couple hours to decide whether there is going to be sanctions or other measures against Belarus.

BOLDUAN: Fred, thank you so much for that.

Coming up for us, a wave of mass shootings gripping the nation, at least a dozen in just the last 72 hours.

Plus, glimmer of hope or forgone conclusion? Well, Congress is more divided than ever. One top Democrat is still optimistic the January 6th investigation will happen. Why he says the commission isn't dead just yet.



BOLDUAN: It was a violent and deadly weekend across America. There were at least a dozen mass shootings across eight states since Friday, leaving 11 people dead.

According to a nonprofit that tracks gun violence in the United States, there were shooting incidents in nearly 150 cities this weekend. The group says at least 7,500 people have died from gun violence since just the start of the year. That is more -- that is more than 20 percent higher than what it was this time last year.

CNN's Polo Sandoval has more on this weekend's deadly violence.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A deadly spike in gun violence putting communities across the United States on edge this morning. Two people were shot during an attempted robbery at a New York City subway station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're getting over COVID-19, and it looks like the madness is coming back.

SANDOVAL: And in New Jersey, police are investigating an incident at a house party that left two dead and 12 others wounded late Saturday night. Police also discovered three people shot to death at an Atlanta area condominium.

And in Youngstown, Ohio, three people are dead and eight others injured outside a shooting outside a bar.

MAYOR JAMAEL TITO BROWN (D), YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO: It breaks my heart to hear when we have young men and women that die at a young age so much potential ahead of them.

SANDOVAL: A 14-year-old girl is killed and 14 others shot attending what police are calling an unauthorized concert in North Charleston, South Carolina.


CHIEF REGGIE BURGESS, NORTH CHARLESTON, SC POLICE: It is a sad day that we have to be here today to talk about another death of another young person.

SANDOVAL: Two men were shot and killed, and eight others injured in downtown Minneapolis early Saturday morning. One of the victims died the same day he was scheduled to graduate from college.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, over 7,500 people have died from gun violence in the United States this year. That's including at least 471 teenagers and 120 children.

ALEXIS CLOONAN, AIDEN LEOS' SISTER: He said, mommy, my tummy hurts. So she went and she picked him up. And he was bleeding on her.

SANDOVAL: Aiden Leos was fatally shot in an apparent road rage incident in Orange County, California, and his mother was driving him to kindergarten Friday morning. The 6-year-old's family is seeking justice and asking the public for any information.

CLOONAN: Please help us find the people that did this to my little brother. He's only 6. He was so sweet.

SANDOVAL: In Minneapolis, leaders are offers a $30,000 we regard to find who is responsible for three recent shootings that left one child dead and two others critically injured.

MAYOR JACOB FREY (D), MINNEAPOLIS: The community has been exceedingly clear. We need to bring the purpose traitors to justice.

SANDOVAL: One of the victims, 6-year-old Aniya Allen who was shot in the head while riding in it the car with her mother last week. She later died at the hospital.

KG WILSON, ANIYA ALLEN'S GRANDFATHER: Not only do we want justice for our babies, we don't want these people out here to shoot somebody else's babies. There will be another press conference with another family standing up here with us.


SANDOVAL (on camera): And the list just keeps going, Kate. This morning, I woke up to confirm reports of a deadly shooting at a hotel in downtown Indianapolis that left two people dead.

Back here in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and officials updating a short while ago about the latest on the investigation to that house party telling us it was in fact a massive birthday party that was specifically targeted. This was not a random act of violence, but nonetheless, extremely tragic.

Local prosecutors here putting things into context. You have 14 people who were shot. Two of them fatally. All of them have families. That is hundreds of people that are all too familiar with the results of this kind of deadly violence.

By the way, there's been at least one arrest right now on weapons related charges involving that case. Authorities here on the ground are anticipating more.

BOLDUAN: It's too much. Polo, thank you for your reporting. I really appreciate it.

All right. Coming up for us still, once again, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene is sounding off and making offensive, grossly inaccurate comparisons and once again Republican leaders aren't saying anything about it. The real impact of that silence next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BOLDUAN: Despite all evidence to the contrary, at least some top Democrats in the House insist they are still hopeful, they are still hopeful that the Senate will approve the bill to establish a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the insurrection on U.S. Capitol. They're keeping hope alive despite what has oddly become fierce opposition from Republican leadership to a bipartisan and independent effort.

CNN's Lauren Fox joins me now from the Hill.

Just gut check me on, Laura. I mean, the Senate is going to vote on this soon. But where do things stand?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a critical week, or at least it could be a critical week if Democrats bring this bill to the floor to establish a commission. That is because there is no sign at this point that they will have ten Republicans joining them. But like you said, House Democrats still expressing some optimism.

Here's what Hakeem Jeffries told reporters earlier this week.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): I'm optimistic actually, Jim, that we're going to be able to move this bill forward because we have uniform support amongst Democrats on Capitol Hill. I think that we have the votes eventually to be able to break the filibuster in the Senate, pass the January 6 and then set in motion this necessary exploration on behalf of the American people.


FOX: And, Kate, a little gut check there. Something to keep in mind is the fact that there were seven Republicans who voted to convict former President Donald Trump on that impeachment charge earlier this year. One of them, Senator Richard Burr, has already said he will not support the commission.

Senator Susan Collins said she was open to it. She could support it. She wanted to see changes that she was still having conversations with some House Democratic leadership. It's unclear whether or not this bill would be at all changed in order to try to get her vote.

But, again, I just don't see the ten Republicans at this point willing to support this bill -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, exactly. Good to see you, Lauren. Thank you.

Here with me now is the anchor of "THE LEAD" on CNN, as well as co- anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION", CNN's Jake Tapper. Jake, am I being too cynical? Sorry, most importantly, the author of

the new novel "The Devil May Dance", because I want to get to that in a second.

First of all --


BOLDUAN: -- the news at hand. Am I being too cynical that -- just as Lauren said, until proven otherwise or given evidence otherwise, I don't see reason for optimism that this is going to happen?

TAPPER: You're not being too cynical. I think you're right. I think the calculated decision has been made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that this commission, January 6th commission will obviously reflect on the Republican Party poorly.