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At This Hour

CNN: Biden to Require Vaccine or Test for All Federal Workers; More than Two-Thirds of U.S. Counties Have High COVID Transmission; Simone Biles Drops Out of Second Olympic Final Citing Mental Health. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 28, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

Turning point. President Biden set to announce he'll require all federal employees be vaccinated or tested regularly, as there's new evidence that the unvaccinated are fueling this pandemic.

And pulling back, Simone Biles dropping out of another competition to focus on her mental health. How the greatest gymnast of all time is breaking the stigma.

Raging wildfires. Incredibly new video capturing one of California's largest fires just consuming a forest. Firefighters are trying to get it under control as we speak.

We begin this hour with a potentially game-changing announcement from the White House. CNN has learned that President Biden will announce tomorrow all federal employees will be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or get regularly tested.

Unvaccinated Americans, make no mistake, are fueling outbreaks all over this country. Take a look at this map and you'll see very clearly all states but one are reporting increases, and big increases in many places of COVID infections.

Southern states where vaccine rates are the lowest are being hit with the highest amount of community spread right now.

All of this comes as the considered reversed its mask guidelines for fully vaccinated people. Dr. Anthony Fauci saying it's not the science that changed, it's the virus, and the science must -- and their guidelines must evolve with it.

Let's begin with CNN's John Harwood live at the White House on President Biden's big announcement. John, what do we expect to hear from the president?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, every single thing president Joe Biden wants to do as a matter of public health, as a matter of reviving the economy, politically as well, hinges on getting this pandemic under control.

And what we're seeing is because of the delta variant and because of the wall that the United States has hit in terms of vaccination rates among people who are resistant, we're seeing a surge in cases, and the administration has got to do something.

Now, the CDC yesterday, as you know, put out the guidance about masks in high-transmission area. So even fully vaccinated people indoors, in settings mixed with the unvaccinated are being advised to wear masks. And now that you have -- we expect President Biden to use the federal government's role as a huge employer to try to change the trajectory here by requiring vaccinations of employees and contractors, and if people cannot show vaccination status, be subjected to testing.

The hope is that private sector employers will follow suit. We're seeing that in some degree, in some settings. We're seeing from universities, for example, and for some private businesses. But more of that has to happen in order to change the rate of vaccination which is the one way out, the science tells us, from this pandemic. And President Biden is trying to affect that.

BOLDUAN: John, thank you very much for that reporting.

So, as we mentioned, it is in the south where the COVID wildfire is spreading pretty much out of control right now. More than two-thirds of the U.S. population either live in a county with a high level of community transmission.

CNN's Martin Savidge is live in Arkansas which is completely red on our map, and yet a ban on mask requirements is set to go into effect today.

Martin, what are you hearing there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that is very controversial because, of course, schools are set to begin August 16th. A lot of schools now are rethinking, maybe we should get students and teachers to mask up, but they can't right now under law. Right now in Arkansas, just like a lot of southern states, they're suffering with a high transmission rate.

And the CDC says if you live in an area that's got a high or substantial rate, you ought to think about masking up indoors even if you've been vaccinated. That map is quite stunning. What's even more stunning is, in a lot of areas of the country, it's sections of the state.

You get to the south, it's entire states. States like Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama. They all fit into that masking category. Meanwhile, here, what's going on? This is a testing site in Little

Rock, Arkansas. In the early part of the summer, it got so slow, they only needed a couple of people to operate it. That has changed and changed drastically in the last seven to eight days, medical experts say.

On Monday, they tested as many as 500 people, yesterday as many as 300, a steady flow today. The reason for that is because of the number that's low. That is, the vaccination rate for the entire state which is hovering around 40 percent.


And if you want to see the heartbreak of what a lack of vaccination creates, then you go to the Arkansas Children's Hospital pediatric intensive care unit where you will see its impact, children. They never had so many children infected with COVID-19.

Half of those cases are inside of that ICU. To see those little bodies wrapped up with all those tubes in such dire condition is heartbreaking and it's all avoidable, the experts say. Just get a vaccine -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All avoidable and preventable at this point. Thank you so much, Martin.

So what is happening in Arkansas is one of the reasons the CDC is making a big move -- you can say backwards, but it is the way forward now. Revising its guidance on masks, now saying even fully vaccinated people should be wearing masks indoors in public settings.

Here is the science the CDC director says is driving this decision.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Here is the new science we saw just in the last several days. With prior variants, when people had these rare breakthrough infections, we didn't see the capacity for them to spread the virus to others. With the delta variant, we now see in our outbreak investigations that have been occurring over the last couple weeks, in those outbreak investigations, we have been seeing that if you happen to have one of those breakthrough infections, you can now actually pass it to somebody else.


BOLDUAN: The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases in the United States is now over 61,000 which is more than five times what it was a month ago.

Joining me now is CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, what do you think of this new data that the CDC director just explained is driving the change in the guidance? DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think this

is concerning data. When you're vaccinated, you're still very well protected from getting sick. But it was sort of a question mark, how much does it protect you against actually potential becoming infected and transmitting the virus to others.

We've known that people can get infected for some time. That was even true from the original clinical trials. With this delta variant, it's become increasingly clear, at least with Dr. Walensky, based on data we haven't seen. But she has told me personally she's seen this data, that someone who is vaccinated and infected, the so-called breakthrough infection, they could carry the same amount of virus as someone who is unvaccinated and infected.

Now, the vaccinated person is still very well protected from getting sick in all that. But the idea they could potentially transmit is what she says is driving these new recommendations.

One thing I want to say based on what Martin was saying, Kate, the primary problem, to simply state it, is still unvaccinated people transmitting the virus to other unvaccinated people. That's still the primary problem.

BOLDUAN: I think that continues to be reinforced. This isn't about a problem with the vaccines, that the vaccines aren't working. That's not what this is. This is still only really happening because of the unvaccinated.

When people inevitably ask, why do people need to wear masks again in school this year, this is all because people refused to get vaccinated.

GUPTA: Yeah, I really think that's the case. It's heartbreaking, Kate. We were so tantalizingly close to actually bringing this pandemic in the United States into containment mode, as they've done in countries around the world, but we couldn't get there, you know, because there's still so many people who are unvaccinated.

The virus continues to spread. You showed that map earlier. Those red areas, if you start to really dissect that data, you'll find they are primarily areas that have less than 40 percent of the counties vaccinated.

So there's a correlation between those red areas and low vaccination status. That shouldn't surprise anyone. But that is the fundamental problem. If you were to ask how much of an impact will masking vaccinated people really make, how much of an impact will that make?

Maybe a little bit of an impact. But a far bigger impact would be, obviously, to get people vaccinated. If they're not, they should be wearing mass for sure. Maybe the vaccinated people wear masks as well as a sign of good will. But mostly the problem is among unvaccinated to unvaccinated.

BOLDUAN: You know, Pfizer also announced that they have new data suggesting a third shot of its vaccine produces the protective antibody levels against the delta variant that are more than five- fold, five times greater than the protection you have after the second shot.

What does this mean, Sanjay?


GUPTA: Well, as we were just saying, the vaccines work really well. We know they work well. So that's great.

If you add five times more protection to something that already works really well, I'm not sure that that means a lot, to be candid. There may be some people for whom they did not get a good antibody response because they have weakened immune systems. This may be something that is a good option for them.

The bigger question, Kate, is not so much do you get this gigantic burst of antibodies, it's really how long does this protection last. The fact that you get five times more antibodies for somebody who already has good protection may be not that important.

If there's evidence that people who are vaccinated are starting to get severely ill, that those numbers are going up, requiring hospitalization, all that, then I think we start talking about potentially boosters in those patients. But right now, I feel -- my own example, I feel very protected because of the vaccine I received. I'm not planning on going out and getting a booster shot right now.

BOLDUAN: That was going to be our next question. Should we start talking about a third shot even sooner before the signs of waning immunity start appearing?

GUPTA: Well, immunity -- it's a great question. You want to be proactive on this, you're absolutely right. I think you have to be data driven. If there's evidence that the vaccine is waning, sure.

But antibodies are just one way of measuring that protection. There's lots of things that go into protecting someone after they've received a vaccine. The real clincher will be if we start to see that vaccine efficacy starting to wane.

BOLDUAN: That's a great point. Great to see you, Sanjay. Thank you very much.

GUPTA: Happy birthday, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Sanjay. My birthday wish is always to spend it with you. I'll take this if --

GUPTA: Right.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, buddy. Thank you very much.

GUPTA: Present is in the mail.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. Let's focus in on Florida right now. Florida leads the United States

in new coronavirus infections in the last week. The surge is overwhelming some hospitals. The number of people so sick with coronavirus that they need to be hospitalized has nearly tripled since the beginning of the month.

Joining me now is Tammy Daniel. She is the chief nursing officer at Baptist Medical center in Jacksonville, Florida. It is your medical center which is seeing this problem right now.

I mean, you have said that you can't open up beds fast enough right now. What's happening in your hospital? What are you seeing?


What we're seeing right now -- we actually have five hospitals over the Jacksonville area. We're seeing patients coming into the emergency rooms very, very, very sick, needing to be admitted. The ones that need to be admitted are not vaccinated. The patients that come into the emergency rooms that have COVID that have been vaccinated are going home.

But the really sick patients coming in are going into our progressive and ICU areas. They need a high-flow amount of oxygen and they're creating the need for us to make more beds outside of our intensive care units.

BOLDUAN: My colleague Randi Kaye spoke with a few of the unvaccinated patients you're talking about, that are so sick they need a high level of care in your hospital.

I want to play something from two of them for our viewer.


FRANCISCA, COVID PATIENT: I cannot breath good. I have shortness of breath. I feel sorry about not getting a vaccine.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're sorry you didn't get the vaccine. Do you think you would be here if you had gotten the vaccine?


KAYE: You were more concerned about the vaccine than the disease and now you're saying you regret it.

MARIBEL: Yes, exactly. That's right.

KAYE: You wish you had gotten the vaccine?

MARIBEL: Yeah, exactly I wish I had gotten it.

KAYE: You probably wouldn't be here.

MARIBEL: Yeah, exactly. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: It's really heartbreaking to hear that from patients who, you can see them struggling to find a breath.

What else are you hearing from these unvaccinated patients that you're caring for?

DANIEL: Yes, Kate. What we're hearing is they're also very fatigued, that they just don't have energy. They can't even walk around in their homes and they just wish they would have been vaccinated so they wouldn't be going through this.

The other thing they're really concerned about is exposing their families. We've actually had whole groups of family members that have had to be hospitalized because they're infecting each other. So, that's a great concern for people that are coming into our hospitals, how do I protect my family from getting what I have?

BOLDUAN: Look, this surge around the counted is driven by the unvaccinated. I was going over that with Sanjay Gupta. A third of the people in this country eligible for a shot haven't gotten it. I'm hearing more frustration and anger from folks who have gotten the shot, who are vaccinated, over all of this because this pandemic is still surging.

I mean, from what you're seeing in your hospital and throughout this pandemic, are you angry?


DANIEL: You know, I have a lot of emotions and our team many embers are doing excellent jobs. You know what, Kate? They're sad. They're said because they're seeing how sick people are and that they're suffering and they feel like if more people were vaccinated, the spread would decrease and we wouldn't be going through this. So, they're really heartbroken is what I would say because they feel like some of the suffering could have been avoided.

BOLDUAN: Probably a lot of it. What is your message to folks who are still resisting getting a shot, also pushing back against wearing masks again? Are you hearing from any of these patients what would have convinced them to get a shot, to get vaccinated and protect themselves so they would not have ended up where they are right now?

DANIEL: What my message is, and I've had my own family members asking me this, is the science is right in front of our eyes. This is not political thing. This is science right in front of our eyes. And 97 percent of the patients that are sick in our hospitals have not been vaccinated.

So we need to step up, and in the meantime, it takes a while to build the antibodies from the vaccine. I think we need to use other types of protection to protect each other. That goes back to what we did, masking and social distancing, until the vaccine can take the effect we need it to take. The message is, the science is right in front of our eyes, and it's unfolding rapidly, too rapidly.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for being here and thank you for your work.

DANIEL: Happy birthday.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much. And she's still kind in spite of everything she's up against. Thank you very much.

Coming up for us, Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, withdrawing from a second competition to put her mental health first. The latest from the Tokyo Games, that's next.

Also this hour, a South Carolina jury convicting a man for killing a college student who mistakenly got into his car believing it was an Uber. Details ahead.



BOLDUAN: Breaking news from the Olympic Games. The greatest gymnast -- one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, Simone Biles, has pulled out of a second competition in Tokyo, withdrawing from tomorrow's all- around competition for Team USA, saying she needs to continue to focus on her mental health. It was just yesterday that the 24-year-old superstar pulled out of the team competition following her stumble during a vault, as you see right there.

Joining me now is CNN's sports analyst Christine Brennan live in Tokyo.

Christine, you're there. You're in the middle of it as you always are. What has been the reaction on the ground to all of this?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: It's a bombshell, Kate. Something that was entirely unexpected basically 24, 25, 26 hours ago, this news hit. It has reverberated around the Olympic Games in a way I have not seen a story be so surprising and also reach out to almost everyone in the games.

In other words, I've been at the swimming venue today. Of course it's late now here, but all day, and swimmer after swimmer coming in. They've won an Olympic gold medal.

Katie Ledecky, the Australian Ariarne Titmus, and they're talking about Simone Biles. They're asked the questions. They're answering the questions. Katie Ledecky went on for several minutes talking about her concern and her friendship with Simone Biles and the pressure that she faces and that Simone faces, and that there are all the cameras right in their face, trying to perform coming back for another Olympics.

So, I really think we're seeing a story -- of course a human being that people are worried about -- and a story that is resonating throughout countries, throughout sports. Simone Biles is that important to people, and the issue, the issue of mental health with these athletes, it's truly resonating at these Olympic Games.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, this is on the heels of Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open, citing her mental health.

I want to play for you and for everyone what Michael Phelps said this morning. Phelps, of course, has won so many Olympic gold medals. And he's also become really outspoken about his mental health struggles. Listen.


MICHAEL PHELPS, FORMER OLYMPIC SWIMMER: This is an opportunity for us, all of us to really learn more about mental health. To all help each other out.

You know, for me, I want people to be able to have somebody that can support them, who is non-judgmental and who is willing to hold space. There's a lot that we can do to help one another, and we have to start. We can't -- we can't -- we can't brush it under the rug.


BOLDUAN: Yeah. This is about a human being, and she's talking about something she's struggling with, you know, before the world. She's going through this before the world.

But where do you think this conversation goes from here?

BRENNAN: Kate, I really think that this conversation is about to turn into a movement, and maybe it already has. And by that, I mean, you've got -- as you mentioned Naomi Osaka, of course, now, Simone Biles. Simone Manuel, the swimmer, an American swimmer, has already won a bronze medal in the relay. She's going to swim in the 50 freestyle at the Olympic trials in Omaha last month.

She came in to the press conference room and told us about overtraining syndrome and about her anxiety and depression that she had during the pandemic. Another athlete, another Olympian talking about those issues, Simone Manuel. Of course, Michael Phelps.

There's so many of these stories out there.


These are role models for millions and millions of people around the world, especially kids, especially young people looking up to them. I do think this, again, conversation moving to actually a movement where it really resonates with people and they can listen to these great athletes.

BOLDUAN: Look, what do you make of what I think is surprising outrage over this, mostly online where the worst of society lives.

What do you make of it?

BRENNAN: I think it's an old school thought, right? Just like tough it out, right? Just play hurt.

How many times do we hear that in football and other sports? You get your bell running. Go and play. That would be the concussion issue which, of course, it's horrifying now.

We as a society progress, we learn, we get better at things. When you get better, whether in the medical field, science, what have you, you adapt.

Those people are living in the past, when you sucked it up and went back in the game. That is such an antiquated view with the knowledge we have about things like concussions, or in this case about mental health.

The fact is, if Simone Biles is not in tip-top shape, if she doesn't have her mind together, she could get injured very severely with the incredible routines that she does. It's a high wire act.

So, this is not the kind of thing, just go out there and do it. Simone Biles could put herself in grave danger with some of those flips and all the different things that she does, if she were to continue on in this manner.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, it can be deadly serious.

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

BRENNAN: Kate, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, new satellite images are raising big questions about what China is up to, as it appears they're building up their nuclear capabilities. Details next.