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At This Hour

CDC Director Says, Delta Variant Responsible for 83 Percent of Cases; White House Official and Aide to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Test Positive for Coronavirus; Jeff Bezos and Crew Speak after Historic Space Flight. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 20, 2021 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Welcome back. We are standing by right now for a news conference with Jeff Bezos and his crew after their historic space flight. We will bring that to you and we will head back to Texas the moment that begins.

But we are also following news on the coronavirus pandemic. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is testifying on Capitol Hill right now and I want to play what she just said about that highly contagious delta variant spreading across the country.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: The delta variant now represents 83 percent of sequenced cases. This is a dramatic increase from -- up from 50 percent of the week of July 3rd.

In some parts of the country, the percentage is even higher, particularly in areas of low vaccination rates.


BOLDUAN: The country is now averaging nearly 35,000 new cases per day, an increase of nearly 50 percent from last week. And cases arising in 44 states and up sharply in 20 states. Hospitalizations are also on the rise, almost exclusively among unvaccinated people.

Walensky is reiterating as well the importance of wearing masks, particularly for children who aren't yet able to get the vaccine. Just yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new recommendations saying that everyone over the age of two should wear masks in schools even if they are vaccinated.

And joining me right now is Dr. Lee Beers, the president of American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Beers, thank you so much for being here.

I saw this announcement yesterday. As it should, it always gets a lot of attention when the AAP puts something out. What got you all to the point where you wanted to come out with this recommendation? DR. LEE BEERS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: Well, thank you so much for asking. And I think the first thing I want to emphasize is that, really, all through the pandemic, the AAP has had guidance for safe return to schools and safe in-person schooling.

And as with all of the guidance related to coronavirus, every 30 days, we review it and we look at the evidence, and we see if there is new or updated guidance that we need to put out. And in this case we knew that, as many things are and you pointed out Dr. Walensky was sharing the spread of the delta variant, the situation around the pandemic is ever evolving. We know schools are getting ready to go back to in- person learning. And so there was new information for us to update.

I think one of things that I really want to emphasize here is that our guidance really emphasizes that it is so important for students to get back to in-person learning in the classroom. It is so essential for their health and development. And this guidance really just lays out a way for us to do that and do that safely.

BOLDUAN: And I do want to get to that specifically, getting them back in class in just one second. But there is a CNN analysis that found that at least nine states prohibit schools from requiring masks. And based off of your recommendations, I wonder what your message is as a doctor, as a pediatrician, to the governors of those states.


BEERS: Yes. I think, you know, most importantly, we all want our kids back in school. We want them learning. We want them safe. And we have a lot of tools at our disposal to do that. Universal masking in schools is a really important way for us to do that and I actually -- I hope that everyone does this voluntarily, just recognizing that there are children in school younger than 12 who don't have access to a vaccine. There are -- there are children and adults, teens and adults in our schools who are unvaccinated.

And this is the way that we can help keep everyone safe. We can help make sure that our kids are in school and that they're learning and that they're able to be with their friends and doing all of the things that are so helpful for their health and development.

BOLDUAN: And we do not expect emergency approval authorization for a vaccine for kids under 12 to come, the expectation right now is into winter of this year. As a doctor and pediatrician, how worried are you about the delta variant for children?

BEERS: Yes. I think this is really concerning, actually. And I think we're hearing -- you've heard the reports that is a more contagious variant. It is making people sicker. And most of the severe infections are in unvaccinated children and adults, and, again, that does include children.

I think we're so grateful that coronavirus doesn't seem to have the severe infectious impacts in the same way that it does in adults but it does still make children very sick. And we have still seen children get quite ill both in the immediate phase, in the hospital, and in the long-term. And so it is just so important for all of us to be coming together to do all of the things that we can to protect everyone in our community and especially right now those children under 12 who don't have access to this safe and effective vaccine.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And when there is an FDA-approved COVID vaccine for children, should it be required by schools? I guess put a different way, Doctor, should this vaccine be any different from any other vaccines that the academy recommends?

BEERS: Yes, it is a great question. And I think it is one that schools and communities are really wrestling with. And I think right now, what we're really focused on is helping and parents and adults and kids and teens know about the vaccine and understand it so that you understand why it is so important to get the vaccine to protect yourself, to protect others so that you know it is a safe and effective vaccine. And so I think these -- these are going to be really important questions that schools need to wrestle with.

And we do, you know, we do ask our kids to be vaccinated against routine childhood illnesses when they come into school. But I think most importantly right now is making sure that everyone knows about vaccine can and understand why it is such a safe and effective vaccine so that you will be eager to get it.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Beers, thank you for coming on.

BEERS: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: We have some breaking news coming in just now to CNN. CNN has just learned that a White House official and a senior aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have tested positive for coronavirus. A White House official confirmed that this staffer, this White House staffer tested positive off the White House campus. And a source tells CNN the White House official had not had any recent contact with President Joe Biden.

But there's much obviously raising many questions and many more questions to come. CNN's Lauren Fox is joining me now with more on the details. Lauren, what more are you learning?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I mean, this isn't just acting the White House, it is also affecting people up here on Capitol Hill. Remember, most people up here on the Hill have been vaccinated. 100 percent of the Democratic caucus had been vaccinated. And this staffer who worked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had also been fully vaccinated but got the coronavirus.

And I think one of the key questions has been what happened here. Remember, those Texas lawmakers who had traveled from that state here to Washington, D.C. as part of their effort to try to pass some kind of voting rights legislation, they had a series of meetings on Capitol Hill. And one of the questions and concerns, of course, is what has happened with this spreading of this virus.

Now, we have also confirmed here at CNN, my colleague, Annie Grayer, our House Producer, learning that the staffer who worked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not been in contact with the House Speaker since they contracted the virus. So, of course, that is very key.

This morning, we saw Speaker Pelosi going into her caucus meeting. She was wearing a mask. Of course, her staff says that she wears a mask when she is traveling but that, of course, is when she's flying on an airline and it is mandated. So I think, obviously, everyone up here is taking precautions.

But if you'll remember a couple of weeks ago, the House finally removed the mask mandate on the floor. But there are a number of Republicans who have not said whether or not they are vaccinated. And that is a key question here. Are they going to be on the floor, is that mask mandate going to change up here on Capitol Hill, because we are seeing this delta variant across the country.


I think there are real concerns about whether or not people up here in Washington are going to need to start masking up again on Capitol Hill. Of course, we haven't seen any guidance along those lines but it is a question that a lot of people are asking after we have seen the outbreak of cases after these Texas lawmakers were here in Washington. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes. And, really, also the question of what these breakthrough infections really mean. That is becoming a question more and more. Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill with breaking news, thank you, Lauren.

Any minute now, we're going to hear from Jeff Bezos and his all- civilian crew in Texas. These are pictures from the moment they left the capsule after their historic space flight. We're going to take you live back to Texas. Anderson Cooper is on the ground there for us. Much more ahead.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to launch site one at near Van Horn, Texas. There you see Jeff Bezos and his team, his crew of three, just getting to the press conference that we've been anticipating. Let's listen in and hear what they have to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- astronaut here at Blue Origin, and it is my pleasure to emcee today's press conference with the newest international astronauts, the first human flight crew of New Shepard, another round of applause.

And without further ado, I think it is time to pin these four wonderful people astronauts. And with that, I would like to introduce to the stage, Jeff Ashby, our Senior Director of Safety and Mission Assurance, as well as former Space Shuttle Commander. Jeff?

JEFF ASHBY, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF SAFETY AND MISSION ASSURANCE, BLUE ORIGIN: I am deeply honored today to represent all of the Blue Origin employees, especially the New Shepard team, past and present, in awarding wings to the first four Blue Origin astronauts.

These astronauts will wear a set of wings in the shape of the letter A. The side pieces represent the road to space and our feather logo is the crossbar. And at the top, a tiny blue sapphire to remind these folks that they are from Planet Earth and that they have a mission to protect this home.

With that said, Oliver, would you join me?

They didn't make this easy. I practiced.

Let me say something. Oliver, you have received a special gift of the astronaut perspective. I know that you will do good things with it and make the world a better place. Congratulations.

Mark, would you join me, please? I'm so excited for you guys.

I'm going to hand you this.

Mark, I hope this experience will help you to continue to do the great things you're doing for human kind. Congratulations.

Jeff, would you join me, please?

There are few people I know more deserving than this, Jeff, seriously. And I don't know what you're going to do next, but I can't wait to watch. Congratulations.


And, Wally, would you join me, please?

60 years, Wally, and I get to pin this on, wow.

WALLY FUNK, AVIATOR: The best pin I've ever had in my life, and I've had lots of them.

ASHBY: Wally, you continue to inspire us. Thank you so much for doing that, and God bless you. Congratulations.

FUNK: Thank you. More to come.

ASHBY: The first four of millions to follow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Again, the newest international astronauts, the crew of New Shepard. Congratulations, all four of you.

So, without further ado, how was it? Jeff, what was it like? Was it everything you imagined?

JEFF BEZOS, FOUNDER, BLUE ORIGIN: I'm going to answer that question, but just real quick.


BEZOS: I want to thank a few people. First of all, all of the engineers that Blue Origin who have toiled hard to get this done, the people who built the vehicle, all of our manufacturing people, this is a big team, they have been working on it for many years and they have done an extraordinary job of building the most reliable, most beautiful, most fun -- I mean, I can vouch for that, I'll get to that in a second -- vehicle. And that we owe them a deep gratitude. And people who kept us safe today, who operated the vehicle, our trainers, everybody, this is huge.

I also want to thank the town of Van Horn. This is a small and amazing little town. And, you know, we're making a dent in it. And we appreciate you for allowing us to be part of your town.

And then I also -- I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this. So, seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart, very much. It's very appreciated.

And now, on how it felt, oh, my God, my expectations were high and they were dramatically exceeded. We were talking about this a little bit in the car ride on the way back. And, I don't know, the zero G piece may have been one of the big e surprises because it felt so normal. It felt so -- like, almost like we were, as humans evolved to be in that environment, which I know is impossible, but it felt so serene and peaceful and the floating. It's actually much nicer than being in full one gravity. It's a very pleasurable experience, just from the sheer -- just the way it feels, the tightness (ph).

You know, the most profound piece of it for me was looking out at the Earth and looking at the Earth's atmosphere. Every astronaut, everybody who has been up into space, they say this, that it changes them. They look at it and they're kind of amazed and awe-struck by the Earth and its beauty, but also by its fragility, and I can vouch for that.

When I look out, we were sitting in this room and when we were driving our cars and we're moving around the planet in our normal ways, the atmosphere is so gigantic. We're these tiny things and the planet -- the atmosphere is so big. But when you get up above it, what you see is it's actually incredibly thin. It's this tiny, little fragile thing. And as we move about the planet, we're damaging it.

So that is -- that's -- that's a very profound -- it's one thing to recognize that intellectually, it's another thing to actually see with your own eyes how fragile it really is, and that was amazing. Who wants to add?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oliver, you want to tell us how it was, our first paying customer? You feel like you got your money's worth, sir?

OLIVER DAEMEN, YOUNGEST PERSON TO VISIT SPACE: No, it was amazing to see it from above and to move around, like, yes, I totally agree, it feels so natural, like almost like we should be doing this.


And I hope that we are one of the first and let's hope that many, many more people are can do this, because this experience, you should share with more and more people. It's so amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And a special congratulations to you on becoming the youngest person to have ever flown in space.

DAEMEN: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You brought with you up there the next generation of space explorers, but certainly another flag up there, the Netherlands, and to everybody out there, the Netherlands. There's the new Dutch flying man. There you go.

J. BEZOS: Mark, you should say what you told me in the car about the G force. I thought that was interesting.

MARK BEZOS, BROTHER OF JEFF BEZOS: Well, I was surprised. I mean, they told us what -- what the G forces would feel like on the way up. And, again, it's one of those things that you hear about, you anticipate, but really feel them on the way up. It was incredibly exhilarating.

And then on the way back down, what I had not anticipated, so we hit five Gs briefly on the way back down, and that's a lot of pressure. And, unfortunately, during the status check for each astronaut by the time they got to Astronaut Demo, which was the name is was flying under, we were at five Gs. And so they were like, Astronaut Demo, how are you doing? I'm doing okay. I had a hard time responding, but I'm not sure what that video footage will look like, probably not very pretty. But it was so exciting.

J. BEZOS: If you haven't figured it out yet, Wally might be the oldest person ever in space and, Oliver, the youngest person ever in space. My brother is the funniest person ever in space, for sure.

I want to do a couple of more things before we maybe go to the next questions, which is I want to recognize two people here in the audience. We are honored today to have Alan Shepard's daughters, Laura and Julie. Could you stand up just briefly so we could see you.

And, of course, Alan Shepard was Apollo moon walker and has a gigantic list of accomplishments. But for our purposes today, the thing that is most interesting about Alan Shepard is that he is the namesake for this vehicle, New Shepard, and that is because the mission profile that we did today is very similar to the one that Alan flew when he became the first American in space I guess 60-ish years ago.

So that is -- we are very honored to have you guys here. Thank you for joining us. It's incredible. And I got some pictures with them backstage, and I know those are getting blown up big. Thank you.

And I have a couple things to show. This -- can we start -- do you want to talk about a couple things we flew, like the -- go ahead.

M. BEZOS: Well, we did -- so we had the opportunity to bring with us, it was actually on loan from the Explorer's Club. We were able to fly with a piece of canvas from the Wright Flyer, so the plane the Wright brothers flew, we brought a piece of that canvas, which was really powerful, as well as a bronze medallion that was made from the first hot air balloon flight in 1783, which was the first time man ever left the Earth and controlled flights. So we're thrilled to be able to bring both of those along with us. And we brought those precious objects back.

J. BEZOS: Yes, we did. And the Explorer's Club will be pleased to hear that.

M. BEZOS: Yes, they're very happy about that.

J. BEZOS: And we have one more thing, which I would actually just like to show you if you cold -- who has the goggles? Could you please, bring them up to me? Would you hold that for me.

FUNK: This is incredible.

J. BEZOS: All right. Would you just (INAUDIBLE). These -- we also flew -- these are Amelia Earhart's goggles, the ones she flew across the Atlantic with solo. And you can see, she put tape over them to kind of have less light come in because it was just so bright all the day and she was flying for so long. And they're just -- I like to think that if Amelia were here, she'd be very, very proud of Wally.

And I just can't resist doing this. Thank you, Amelia, wherever you are. We hope you're watching all of this. Thank you. These are precious, precious cargo. There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, well, on that note, Wally --


J. BEZOS: Oh, I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, please go ahead.

J. BEZOS: thank you, Lauren just reminded me. I have one more thing, which is -- and, Christina (ph), I might need your help on this.