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At This Hour

COVID Hospitalizations & Death Rates Double in Past 3 Weeks; UN Report: Climate Crisis Happening Faster than Previously Thought; Governor Cuomo's Assistant Details Groping Allegations, Insists He is Lying. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 09, 2021 - 11:00   ET


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Boris Sanchez, in for Kate Bolduan.


Here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

Paying a terrible price. That's how one of the country's top health officials described America's failure to end the pandemic. Florida now reporting a record number of cases. We'll take you there for a live report.

Plus, a code red for humanity. A landmark report warning that climate change is accelerating and humans are running out of time to reverse it.

Plus, accused of a crime. An assistant to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo detailing groping allegations and insisting that the governor broke the law. Could Andrew Cuomo face impeachment soon?

Thank you so much for joining is.

We begin this hour with the United States facing a bleak reality. The pandemic is not over. And the situation is worsening. The number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all trending in the wrong direction and continuing to hit levels we have not seen in months.

The United States now averaging more than 108,000 new cases a day. As the delta variant spread among the unvaccinated. That's the highest level we've seen in six months as schools across the country prepare to reopen. The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus now more than 66,000, also at highest level since February.

And even more tragically, the virus is killing an average of more than 500 Americans per day. That's more than double the average from just three weeks ago. There is some good news. The rate of vaccines administers continues to increase. But there are still nine states where less than 40 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Let's get straight to Florida and CNN's Natasha Chen who is live for us in Orlando.

Natasha, Florida now reporting an all-time high in cases. It's become one of the epicenters of COVID-19 in the United States.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Boris, the trends are looking really troubling, especially as schools starts in many districts. In Orange County here, class resumes in person tomorrow. Now, let me show you a little bit what we're seeing right in front of us, because there is a vaccination site on our side of the street. There is no one in line for it.

But there is a testing site across the street, there is a line of cars and if you go over there to where the cones are, we're told by staff that those cones are the two-hour mark for waiting for a COVID test right now. So, there is a strong interest and urgency among people trying to get tested. We did however talk to one person who was the very first to show up to get his son his second vaccine shot. This man happens to be a nurse. So I asked him what his job is like right now.


CHEN: How much hard serer is your j today than it was months ago.

TERRANCE H. NURSE: Two times as harder, because the resources are low. The mentality of the nurses is strained because all of the patients are sick. And we want to do our best to take care of them but it's just a never-ending battle because there is always more patients to take care of.


CHEN: Now let's show you a little bit of putting Florida in the context of the nationwide trends here. New data today showing that as of today, the hospital patients classified as COVID-19 patients in Florida, about a quarter of them are COVID-19 patients versus in the U.S. across the board 8.9 percent.

And if you look at the level of community transmission in the state of Florida, the entire map is red, every single county, high transmission there. And, of course, when you look at the seven-day average of new cases in Florida, it is the highest as you mentioned that they've seen in the pandemic altogether and at the very end of that graph, you may see sort of a jagged stepladder looking line going up and that is because the state has taken down its daily COVID dashboard and now reporting only once a week, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, Natasha, it is important to remember that Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis is also taking a hands off approach and as we watch students return to the classroom, that could spell even more trouble for Florida down the road.

Natasha Chen in Orlando, thank you so much.

So as the delta variant continues to spread, the long awaiting return to normal remains illusive.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us now live from Dallas.

Ed, there has been a number of events around the country that have been canceled, the New York auto show and jazz fest in New Orleans. Some of them, though, are still being held like the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota, even though last year when they held that rally, it turned out to be a super-spreader event?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. So it depends, the bottom line since this point since the reaction and the response to the spread of this pandemic has been politicized to the extent that it has been, really depends on what state you're in or the organizers of whatever event.

But across the country, you're really seeing the beginning of a dramatic shift in this whole idea of returning to normal, and as you mentioned, how it's becoming much more illusive. Just look at the major events across the country that have been canceled. The New Orleans jazz fest, the New York International Auto Show, the band Limp Bizkit has canceled its August show, and the high park summer fest, the New Jersey Crawfish Festival.

And Garth Brooks, who has been promoting a stadium tour. In fact, last night playing to a sold out audience in Kansas City is now saying that he's going to re-evaluate his future stadium tours for the rest of this year. There are other big name bands that have also planned stadium tours as well, including the rolling stones and that have announced a concert date for later this year as well.

And then on top of all of this, in the day-to-day life of millions of Americans, there are major corporations that are announcing that they are rolling back and putting a pause on how they're going to get their employees back to the office safely. You could see a list there of just some of the corporations that are beginning to re-evaluate what they're do here in the coming weeks as across the country, we're seeing dramatic increases in the number of coronavirus cases.

And all of this, Boris, slowing down that after 18 months or so of this coronavirus pandemic, these wishes an these dreams of getting life back to normal, or as much as back to normal as possible is becoming much more elusive and quite frankly big question marks as to just how quickly it is going to return to normal at the end of day here -- Wolf.

SANCHEZ: And it has to be said that --

LAVANDERA: Or Boris. Sorry about that.

SANCHEZ: I appreciate that. That is high praise.


SANCHEZ: But it has to be said that so much of this is preventable. If more people have been vaccinated, we likely wouldn't be dealing with so many of issues so far down the road.

Ed Lavandera from Dallas, always good to see you, my friend.

So let's discuss the effort to eradicate COVID with an expert. Michael Osterholm joins us now. He's the director at the Center for the Infectious Disease, Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Professor Osterholm, really appreciate your time and getting your expertise this morning.

It seems like the country lost a month of progress, large events are getting canceled, businesses as you hear from Ed pushing back a return to the office.

What needs to be done to get the country back on track?


Let's just be really clear that we still have a very large part of our population that are unprotected. Over 90 million people who are eligible to get vaccinated have not been vaccinated. So this surge that is occurring right now and primarily in the southern Sun Belt states may end up lasting another four or five weeks and those states and dropping precipitously, the question is still out on what will happen with the other states, will they see the kind of surges weeks later than we see if the South?

But the bottom line message is we need to get people vaccinated now because we're still going to have a lot of susceptible people even after the surge is over. And we're talking about surges that could call in the fall or the winter. So when people talk about getting back to normal, I hope they understand that until we have a very high percentage of our population protected, we're still at risk of seeing these very kind of events that we're seeing right now.

SANCHEZ: That is a really good point, too, the fact that it is summertime and a lot of people out outdoors and as we get closer to autumn and winter, we're likely to see more surges because people are going to be indoors and a space where the virus thrives. Let's focus in on Florida. We heard from Natasha Chen, nearly one in four teenagers being tested for COVID are testing positive. For kids under 12, that number not much better.

Governor Ron DeSantis digging in his heels. He's banning schools from requiring masks.

Professor, when you look at these numbers, what's your message to those leaders that argue that parents should determine what their kids do to mitigate the spread of COVID?

OSTERHOLM: Well, obviously, parents have a primary responsibility for protecting the health and safety of their children but they also have to have a responsibility to base that on the scientific information that basically describes what the risk is for those kids and how transmission occurs.

And so, I think this is one of the challenges we have right now and particularly with the delta variant. You know, in the piece earlier, you talked about the festivals being canceled but there are many that are going on. We have state and county fairs, a lot of major events that are going on outdoors.

And one of the things that have been concerning with this delta variant is the high level of infectiousness where even outdoor event are now -- when people are crowded together resulting in very large number of cases.


And so, you know, prior to delta, we said it is primarily indoor- related experiences. Well, that is still true. But even outdoor ones now are challenging.

So, all of the issues around delta make this even a more complicated situation than it was just eight to ten weeks ago.

SANCHEZ: So I want to look at the national picture quickly because deaths from COVID have doubled in the last three weeks. The rate of vaccinations fortunately is also increasing.

Are you anticipating that this bump in vaccinations is going to help alleviate the situation?

OSTERHOLM: Absolutely not. We have to be honest and clear about that. And when I say absolutely not, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to get vaccines. Yes, get vaccinated.

Remember, it takes four to six weeks for the immunity to take hold. And so anything for the next four to six weeks is also baked into the system.

These vaccines will help surely bring the surge to a quicker close in four to six weeks. It will surely protect us against future surges. But we have to understand right now, it is a distancing, it is not being in large crowds, it is wearing an N-95 mask and for kids, KN-95 masks are available and we have to emphasize to really bring the case numbers down as much as we can.

SANCHEZ: We have to leave the conversation there. Professor Michael Osterholm, thank you so much for the time.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Coming up, a code red for humanity. That's how the U.N. is describing a damning report on climate change this morning. What could we do to turn things around? An important discussion after the quick break.



SANCHEZ: We've been watching apocalyptic scenes around the world and extreme heat and drought fuelling wildfires, eviscerating homes, businesses, farms and forests, some really sad scenes in Greece. Look at this. Ferries having to evacuate thousands people from the

island of Evia. That country is fighting some of the worst wildfires in its history amid a blistering heat wave. Temperatures spiking to 113 degrees.

Meantime, here in the United States, the Dixie fire forcing thousands from homes in northern California. And this fire is growing now nearly 500,000 acres. It is the second largest wildfire in California's history and it's still far from contained.

California's Governor Gavin Newsom directly linking these fires to the climate crisis. Listen.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: Extreme weather conditions, extreme droughts, leading to extreme conditions and wildfire challenges likes of which we've never seen in our history. And as a consequence, we need to acknowledge just straight up these are climate-induced wildfires and we have to acknowledge we have the capacity in the country not just the state to solve this.


SANCHEZ: There is a landmark United Nations report out this morning on climate change and warming that the earth is warming at a rate faster than previously thought. The window for countries to take decisive action to avoid the most dire consequences is closing.

The head of the U.N. is calling it a code red for humanity.

CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir joins us now.

A code red for humanity, Bill. Walk us through the details in the report. What else does it say?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is really striking in its starkness, Boris. It's just so -- the sense of assuredness is there with all of the amounts of data that's been gathered since the last report that came out about eight years ago. And if in that report, in 2013, '14, if you had said predicted, what you just shows that this would be happening in the world and the recorded that we would be shattering by the week, that would have been considered alarmist.

But now, after these 234 scientists, 66 nations, they look at 14 now papers and come up with language that 195 countries could agree on, enemies and allies alike and what they're saying, yes, it is happening, our worst fears are coming true faster and more severe than anybody have predicted an the only way to stop it is to stop burning fuels as soon as possible forever.

So, there is a budget there and how that is spent over the next decade or so, whether it's spent on coming up with alternatives or whether it's pilfered in the old-fashioned way will determine really the fate of life as we know it. SANCHEZ: Well, Bill, you've been covering the climb crisis for years

and we've been watching these natural disasters that used to be one once in a lifetime. They're happening more and more frequently. It seems annually, but it doesn't feel like the issue gets the urgency from the leaders around the world that's required to address it in a meaningful way.

Do you think this report could help change that?

WEIR: We'll see. But again this is the sixth of these, chapter six of these warning reports, Boris. And the pledges that were made at the Paris Accords, no country virtually is meeting them yet.

And they're supposed to try to go to Glasgow in a few of months and up the ante. And say we're going to do even more. Politics gets in the way, I think the United States, you see what is happening with an infrastructure bill. Just trying to do modest things becomes a partisan fight.


But what you're seeing a lot of action in and may dictate how things go is in the courts, the so-called "climate kids" suing for the right to a livable planet, or who is accountable for this. Can you use sort of forensics of tying weather events to climate change and then sue an oil or gas companies for their part in that. That is what maybe the next chapter, and reports like this which is the definitive state of the science will go to both judges, juries and policymakers.

SANCHEZ: And, Bill, the Biden administration outlined that the climate crisis would be a big priority. Obviously, there is plenty that the United States could do to help these efforts. But ultimately, it's a global issue. Are you seeing enough from other major players like China to make a difference? It doesn't sound like it?

WEIR: Well, China is trying to have it all. They have so many mouths to feed and people lifting into the middle class. So they're putting more coal on line than the rest of the world but also leading the world in solar and trying to have it all. They're also a race for natural resources out there.

Right now, we're dealing with the social license to go drilling for oil these days. When we know what it is doing to us, how long will companies have that social license? We stopped burning whales for light at a certain point. How soon that moment happens may determine a lot.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, a pivot that needs to happen if there is going to be sustainable life for humans on this planet. A sobering report.

Bill Weir, thank you so much as always.

WEIR: You bet.

SANCHEZ: Coming up, Andrew Cuomo fighting to stay in power. The state assembly considering impeachment as one of his accused breaks her silence. We'll get you the latest details, next.



SANCHEZ: We are 26 minutes past the hour.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing increasing pressure after an investigation found that he sexually harassed 11 women. Last night, his top aide resigned and this morning, we're hearing directly from the woman called executive assistant number one in the state attorney general's report. She's now publicly detailing her accusations against the governor. And right now, at this hour, the state assembly judiciary committee is meeting to discuss their findings and next steps toward a potential impeachment.

CNN's Polo Sandoval joins us live from Albany with the latest.

Polo, what are you expecting out of the meeting this morning?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, that pressure that you mentioned likely intensifying with several developments. Just today alone, just there c this, that the inner circle is shrinking with the resignation of one of Melissa DeRosa. So, there's that.

And there is also, as you mentioned, one of the accusers stepping into the public light and attaching a name and a face to some of the most serious accusations that we read in the attorney general report, some of the sexual harassment allegations that have come forward toward the governor. And then the final point, the New York state assembly getting closer to a potential impeachment vote. In fact, that's happening right now in closed session, a conversation that's happening between those lawmakers and investigators.

We were told that later this afternoon, we could get a better idea in terms of what the timeline is for that investigation. As you recall, late last week, we reported that the governor is on notice and told that he has until this Friday to provide lawmakers with any kind of evidence that he feels might potentially help his case.

But back to the second point that I made and Brittany Commisso who spoke publicly, her attorney saying that she waited up to this point until the attorney general had released her report.

I want you to hear a portion of that exclusive interview that she -- that she gave CBS News as she described one of the encounters that took place. And keep in mind we have reached back out to the governor's office after that interview was made public and have not heard back. However, before that interview was released, the Cuomo's attorney specifically addressing this allegation saying that they are not true.


BRITTANY COMMISSO, GOV. CUOMO ACCUSER: These were not hugs that he would give his mother or his brother. These were hugs with the intention of getting some personal sexual satisfaction out of, then they started to be hugs with kisses on cheek, and then there one at one point a hug and then when he went to kiss me on the cheek, he quickly turned his head and he kissed me on the lips.

INTERVIEWER: What did you say?

COMMISSO: I didn't say anything. I didn't say anything this whole time.

People don't understand that this is the governor of the state of New York. There are troopers that are outside of the mansion, they're not there to protect me. They are there to protect him.

I felt as though if I did something to insult him, especially insult him in his own home, it wasn't going to be him that was going to get fired or in trouble.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have any consensual sexual activity with the governor of New York state?


INTERVIEWER: Is it possible that the governor thought that these interactions that he was having with you was something --