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At This Hour

Internal CDC Doc: "The War Has Changed" Due to Delta Variant; Soon: Senate Votes On Advancing Biden's Infrastructure Deal; Stefanik Vs. Cheney: The Night & Day Contrast Within GOP Conference. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired July 30, 2021 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks to all of you for joining here today. Have a safe and healthy weekend. I'm headed on vacation and I will see you very soon. I'm Poppy Harlow.

AT THIS HOUR with Kate Bolduan starts now.

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

Here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

The war has changed. The new warning from a CDC document about the delta variant and what's coming next for the country.

The GOP divide. Liz Cheney versus the woman who replaced her, Elise Stefanik. New reporting on the battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

And welcome home. The first group of Afghan interpreters arrive in America with their families and the thousands more waiting for help as U.S. troops leave and the Taliban press in.

Thank you all for being here.

Let us start with what really is a game changing set of new facts about COVID-19. In a new CDC internal document, researchers describe it this way, that the war has changed because of the delta variant. The document makes clear that the delta variant is proving to be more of a severe threat, more dangerous than most people really have grasped until now.

And it says the delta strain is now as contagious as the chicken pox and likely caused more severe illness than any of the previous COVID- 19 variants. And with more than 612,000 people in the United States dead from this virus now, that is a terrifying statement that it could be worse and more deadly, and more severe.

This new CDC information also makes clear that this variant could even be easily passed along from a vaccinated person, which was previously not known.

But make no mistake: the surge of new cases a danger posed by the delta variant is driven by people who are still not vaccinated in this country. And you could see where those states are. The country is averaging almost 67,000 new cases a day. And that is five times as much as just last month.

Let's get right to CNN's Kristen Holmes.

Kristen, what else are you learning from this document?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is incredibly sobering data here. And it appears to have played a part in why they updated that mask guidance. As you said, this is an internal document and a slideshow to show just how dangerous the delta variant is. So let's take a look at why it is so dangerous.

You mention the first one. It is likely as infectious as the chicken pox. It spreads faster than SARS, Ebola, the flu and the common cold. This one, you mentioned this, this fully vaccinated individuals may spread in the same rate as the unvaccinated, again, appears to coincide with that CDC mask update. Higher hospitalization and death rates risk to older groups regardless of their vaccination status.

But this is really the most important one and I want to point it out. Vaccines prevent more than 90 percent of severe disease. Why is this so important? Also in the slideshow, the CDC talked about how there may be a communication issue now because of the fact that there is this increase in cases, that people are hearing about cases, they are experiencing cases and that might lead them to not believe in the vaccine.

This data should dispel all of that. If you get the vaccine, you are 90 percent, more than 90 percent more likely to get a less severe illness with the vaccine and with the delta variant, if you are vaccinated, it could be the difference between life and death, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Great way to finish on that, Kristen, thank you so much.

The data behind the CDC document is also what informed the CDC's decision to revise masking guidelines as Kristin said. That is linked to a COVID outbreak following the July 4th weekend in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in Cape Cod.

The town's manager confirmed to CNN the cluster there has grown to almost 900 COVID infections following the holiday. And the vast majority were people who were vaccinated. Listen to this.


ALEX MORSE, PROVINCETOWN, MA TOWN MANAGER: I think that came as a surprise to many folks that we were told that if you're vaccinated, your almost invincible and many people wrongly assume that. We're taking that this delta variant is highly transmissible, more contagious, more likely to have a breakthrough infection. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: CNN's Polo Sandoval is joining me now from Provincetown.

Polo, not invincible but it shows that the vaccines are doing their job because the vast majority in this cluster avoided serious illness. What are you learning?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The fact that the hospitals in this small town didn't experience a crisis, that's certainly telling here. And as we wait to see more of the data released by the CDC in a couple of hours will reveal. Let me bring you up to speed on the numbers regarding this particular cluster according to "The Washington Post" was considered as a CDC modified their mask mandate.


As of this morning, about 828 confirmed cases and that is overall since the start of July have been reported. Only seven of those required hospitalizations. But then, of course, the big number here that is certainly getting the attention of so many people, about 73 percent of those close to 900 cases were people who were vaccinated. So it certainly speaks to what was just discussed a little while ago here, a short moment ago, about how this vaccine does not prevent the transmission, but at least could certainly limit the percentage of people who do end up if the hospital which again seven out of 900. And also a key figure here, zero deaths so far.

And in terms of what we heard from the town manager this morning, there is a silver lining in all of this that the numbers are headed in the right direction when it comes to this outbreak in Provincetown. This is a gauge here which is test positivity. About two weeks ago during what is described here as the height of the outbreak, the peak of the outbreak, they were looking at about a 15 percent test positivity rate. That is on July 15th.

Fast forward to today and that number is about 4.6 percent. Usually anything under 5 percent suggests there is significant progress, anything under 1 percent that means the outbreak has been contained. So, Kate, that certainly speaks to what people are talking about there, that hose numbers are heading in the right direction but certainly still concerned about what took place just a couple of weeks ago.

BOLDUAN: Yeah. Polo, thank you so much for your reporting.

Joining me now for more on this is Dr. Paul Offit. He's director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. And Dr. Leana Wen, she's a CNN medical analyst, and the author of the new book "Life Lines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health."

Thanks for being here.

Dr. Offit, let's start with what's coming out in these documents. Delta variant is more transmissible than the virus that caused MERS, SARS, Ebola and smallpox and as contagious as chicken pox and they believe it causes more serious illness. What does that mean?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, FDA VACCINE ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Well, it is certainly more contagious than the first two viruses as they came into this country. I mean, chicken pox has a so-called reproducibility index of ten. Meaning that if I'm infected, I will infect t people during as they're all susceptible.

I haven't seen data to see that SARS-CoV-2 is that contagious. But in any case, it's very contagious. That we know.

And a couple of point made with the previous reporter, if you've gotten, say, two dose of the mRNA vaccine or a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are very, very likely to be protected against severe critical disease, I mean, the kind of cause going to the hospital or the morgue. That's good.

I think that while it is true that if you have been vaccinated, that you still might have an asymptomatic infection or mildly asymptomatic infection and you're less likely to have that if you're vaccinated and if you're not vaccinated.

So I think people should be encouraged by the vaccine but it doesn't do something called sterilizing immunity. I mean, sterilizing immunity, so for example, you get two doses containing vaccine, you are not going to get any manner of measles, not a symptomatic infection, not a mildly symptomatic infection, nothing. That virus bounces off you if you've gotten the missile vaccine.

That's not the vaccine nor is it this kind of vaccine, but people should still be encouraged to get a vaccine and that is the problem. The problem is we have probably 100 million people in this country would still need to be vaccinated. If we could get them vaccinated we won't talk about a lot of this.

BOLDUAN: I think all of this that is coming out is -- makes more of a case of why you need to get a vaccine. And get it now. Because the more time, Dr. Wen, that goes on that people are not vaccinated, gives the delta variant to do more work or the next variant to come about. Because the next step the CDC said in this document is the way they put it is acknowledge the war has changed.

What does that mean?

DR. LEANA WENCNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, think the CDC really needs to change their messaging here. Because it is been really confusing for people to be reading these leaf documents and try to match it up with what they said earlier this week.

My takeaway from all of this is yes, the delta variant, as doctor said is extremely concerning. It is very contagious and makes people sicker and it makes people sicker faster and it is affecting younger people. But at the same time, we also know that the problem is actually not primarily with the vaccinated. The problem is mainly with the unvaccinated. When we look around the country to see where are surges occurring and people ending up in the hospitals, it is concentrations of a lot of unvaccinated individuals. So, yes, it is true that if you are vaccinated, you should know there

is a chance that you could still contract COVID-19 and in a very worrying way, you could still transmit it to people you live with. I mean, I have two young kids. I want to make sure that I'm wearing a mask indoors because I want to protect my children. Even if I don't get very sick myself, I don't want to transmit COVID to my unvaccinated kids or to immuno-compromised people.


But that said, indoor mask mandates need to come back, not so much because there is a danger of the vaccinated, but the danger is primarily still from the unvaccinated to the unvaccinated.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And that gets to, Dr. Offit. The CDC director told CNN last night the following: The measures we need to get this under control, they are extreme, the measures you need are extreme, is what Dr. Walensky said.

I mean, what do you think we need to be doing differently today with this new data in mind?

OFFIT: I think we've gotten to the point where you have about 35 percent of the population saying they don't want a vaccine. Now we tried. I mean, the vaccine is free and readily available. Just two shots.

We've tried to educate. We tried incentives. We tried decrease disinformation. We certainly saw -- I think largely solved the access problem.

So, what do you do now -- what do you do now when much of the population, this larger percentage of the population says not for me? And I think you're seeing that, which is mandate vaccines, which is to say you have to compel people to do the right thing or in the case of the $100 gift, you have to reward them for doing the right thing. You would think that doing the right thing would be its own reward but apparently not.

And I think that is going to happen. You're seeing at the private level. You're certainly seeing at some level where the Biden administration is talking about mandating vaccines for federal workers and that will get vaccine rates up.

It is sad that you have to do that. Anybody who looks at the data would get this vaccine in a second because it is clearly safe and effective. I don't see why we have to be any more dramatic about this virus. It is already killed 620,000 people in this country. That should be enough to tell people to get vaccinated.

BOLDUAN: I totally agree. But real quick, Doctor, because I think it is important what you're leaning into which at this point it is mandatory vaccinations need to be discussed because the requirement that President Biden announced really only require that people attest that they have gotten, that they have been vaccinated. And I'm stealing this from Dr. Wen because she's talked about the honor system on so many levels when it comes to COVID has not worked to this point.

Does it make sense to you, why the White House, the president didn't go further then?

OFFIT: No, I think we certainly need to make sure that people got vaccinated however we do that. Whether it is with antibody testing or I carry a little card that shows that I've gotten two doses of this vaccine back in January.

And I also think that he should be a little tougher in that he has sort of a pop off now if you choose not to get a vaccine, you get weekly testing. I mean, that's not a mandate. A mandate is get vaccinated. If you're going to be a member of society, not just young children but also people who say are on cancer, chemotherapy or biology immuno-suppressive therapy for diseases, they depend on those around them. You owe it to society to get this vaccine.

It is just amazing the number of people who say this isn't for me. I'm a child of the '50s, and I remember the polio vaccine. We didn't go through this then. Everybody saw polio as evil and saw it was a war against polio.

Now it is not just the war against SARS-CoV-2. It's war against that percentage of us who simply say, you know, we're fine with the virus continuing to spread, continuing to mutate, continuing to possible create variants and more and more resistant to vaccination and I think we have to draw a line and mandate is that line.

BOLDUAN: Can you just give your final thought on this, Dr. Wen?

WEN: I completely agree with Dr. Offit. At a certain point, we have to decide what we stand for.

Are we okay with saying that people can drink and drive? Of course not. Because they could cause harm to other people. You could drink in your home if private. But if you want to get behind the wheel and cause harm to others, you can't do that.

And I think at this point, especially with the delta variant and the possibility of new variants, we have to apply that same lens for vaccination, that if you want to stay unvaccinated, fine. But if you want engage in public spaces, go to work, be around other people, you need to be vaccinated.

BOLDUAN: And today may be a turning point in that. We'll see. Thank you both.

All right. Coming up for us, more on the battle against COVID coming up. You're going to meet a brave little girl taking part in a pediatric vaccine trial. Her mother is a COVID survivor still suffering long haul symptoms. Mom and daughter both join us live.

Plus, this hour, the trillion dollars infrastructure deal faces another big test. We're going to take you live to Capitol Hill.


BOLDUAN: Any minute now, a hurdle for the bipartisan Senate deal for massive investments in infrastructure around the country, the Senate is expected to hold another vote on the trillion-dollar plan, but it is still a long way to go in this divided Congress.

CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill for us.

Lauren, what is going to happen later this hour and where is this headed?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, in just a couple of minutes, Kate, we expect a rare view of the Senate working on a Friday where we expect that they're going to take a procedural vote to essentially begin the amendment process on that bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Like you said, there are still plenty of obstacles to go. For example, we still do not have bill text underlying exactly what is going to be inside of this bill. That makes it hard to write the amendment process.

Schumer said it is his expectation that they could still get this work done in the next several days. They may have to work over the weekend. But it is not settled yet exactly how long this whole process is going to take.


BOLDUAN: Lauren, also today, a debate and possible vote on extending the eviction moratorium that's expiring tomorrow. What is happening with this?

FOX: Well, look, this is really a cliff hanger up here on Capitol Hill. The White House is arguing that Congress needs to take their action because their hands are tied after Supreme Court decision earlier this year. So, what they're looking for is Congress to take action.

But in the House, while there is a bill that is gone through the rules committee, it is still not clear if it will come up on the floor because it is not clear that Nancy Pelosi has the votes she needs to actually pass it. Assuming it could get through the House, there are a lot of obstacles in the U.S. Senate.

For example, they're already working on a bipartisan infrastructure bill so their only option is trying to get a unanimous agreement and that is likely not going to happen when you have Republicans with key votes that would be needed to actually pass that legislation -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Lauren, thank you so much on the Hill.

Joining me now for more on this is CNN political director David Chalian and CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona.

David, on infrastructure, how perilous and yet important is this moment for the Congress and the president right now?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, as we saw over the last month or so, we saw this infrastructure deal, this bipartisan deal sort of die and come back to life four times. So, now, imagine they were able to get through these procedural steps and they put humpty- dumpty back together but now it is a fragile thing that the president and his team need to keep together. Because the House is going to have its say and you could see more progressive members of House staking out their ground on what it will take for them to vote for this bipartisan deal going forward.

And yet if the bill changes too much, you know, that could completely undo the coalition that exists if the Senate across party lines.

So the mission now is for the administration and the Democratic leaders in Congress to keep moving the ball down the field without all of the other distractions that could come along derailing it from its goal.

BOLDUAN: Melanie, to David's point, I mean, there are sp Democrats especially in the house that are not happy with what is happening here. You have progressive. You also have Pete DeFazio, the chair of the House Transportation committee and I will read what he said.

This was written by three people who have no knowledge of or expertise in transportation infrastructure.

I mean, that's -- that's painful. How real, though, is this pushback if this bill comes to the House?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Listen, Nancy Pelosi is facing pressure from all corners of the Democratic Caucus right now. It is not just progressives. Progressives, obviously they want this big $3.5 trillion bill on social programs but then you have moderates in the caucus who want to vote immediately as soon as the bipartisan bill passes.

So I think the question becomes, how long does the House sit on that bipartisan bill once it comes over to them. Now, Pelosi has made it clear she will not take a vote until if and when they get the big budget resolution that will set the stage for the bigger bill.

But the pressure will continue to mount in the months ahead. And you have both sides sort of going at each other and it is starting to get really nasty. Tensions are boiling up. Everyone just wants to get out of town and get on their summer vacations, their August recess. There's still a long list of things me need to figure out.

BOLDUAN: It almost feels like people try to one up each other, how to trash people and getting a better dig as you get out of town. And the COVID dynamic, how serious the delta variant is, Biden and Democrats, they may want to put focus on infrastructure and other domestic priorities, but this is roaring back.

How do you think this impacts kind of the rush for Biden and Democrats in Congress to get things done in the next few weeks. CHALIAN: I mean, listen, they're going to have -- the administration

is going to have work both issues simultaneously. As you know, Kate, from observing the Biden administration from the beginning, they understand, there is nothing else that they get to do until they get all of the way through this pandemic because that is what the country is going to demand of them.

And so, seeing this setback right now is a moment as you saw the president yesterday have to regroup the nation's attention. Now, it doesn't mean his administration is not able to move down the legislative track as well on infrastructure. They can. But by no means can this now -- sort of turn from COVID and make that their sole focus. Because they will not be able to bring the country along to anything else if they seem for one moment not on top of this COVID crisis.

BOLDUAN: That is so true.

Melanie, you have also some really great new reporting in the split in the Republican Party. How Liz Cheney and Elise Stefanik kind of encapsulate that divide right now.


What have you found?

ZANONA: Well, it was rally striking, particularly, this week, when you had Liz Cheney, the former House GOP conference chair, participating in this bipartisan January 6 committee. She was up there calling for a fact-finding mission, calling out the whitewashing in her own party.

And meanwhile, that same morning, Elise Stefanik, who is now the current GOP conference chair who replaced Liz Cheney was at a press conference blaming Nancy Pelosi for security failures even though Pelosi doesn't have management over those security failures, and really echoing the party talking points.

I just think it really exemplifies the rift in the GOP party right now. But in a sign of where the party is actually headed, I talked to a number of members in the conference and everyone gave praise for Elise Stefanik where it's Liz Cheney is now facing renewed calls to be expelled from the conference entirely.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, it's great reporting. Thank you so much, Melanie.

ZANONA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, David. Thank you.

CHALIAN: Take care.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19 are all of the children under 12 who aren't able to get a shot. But thanks to thousands of kids taking part in pediatric trials, all kids may soon get a chance, and you're going to meet one little girl taking part in the vaccine trial and hear why her mom says it was so important that they do.