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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Delta Variant Poses an Increasing Threat to the Unvaccinated; White House Puts New Urgency on the Unvaccinated as Cases Surge; COVID Rules and Protests Hang Over Quite Opening Ceremony; Nation's Largest Wildfire in Oregon Burns More than 400K Acres; British Government Under Fire for Lifting COVID Restrictions; Retail Experts Predict Shortage of Back-to-School Supplies. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired July 23, 2021 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: When you asked everybody in your special what their favorite theme song was, what was it?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, "DON LEMON TONIGHT": Hands down "Gilligan's Island." And the reason that that was everyone -- actors on the show, theme songwriters, they said it's because that song told its story of what happened on that show every week so you could pick up what happened.

CAMEROTA: "Where Have All the Theme Songs Gone" airs 8:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

THE LEAD starts right now.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: How do you follow that act?

All right. Tokyo testing out the old saying, better late than never.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A governor of one of the most conservative states says it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated, as the current COVID surge starts to resemble the early dark days of the pandemic.

And let the games begin. After a year of delays, the torch is lit in Tokyo, but the Olympics still can't seem to outrun the pandemic.

Plus, explosive clouds and fire tornados. Climate change making sci-fi nonfiction as a historic wildfire impacts people from coast to coast.


BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper on this Friday.

And we start today with our health lead. The alarm bells are sounding, and the only way to turn them off is for more people to get vaccinated. It is as simple as that. The average of new daily coronavirus cases in the United States is up 65 percent just from this time last week.

So, to put that into context, the surge we're dealing with right now, which is driven by the unvaccinated is worse than the horrible original spike from last spring.

But despite all of these warnings from top health officials, doctors, politicians, local leaders and, well, basically everybody, the daily pace of vaccinations, it keeps falling as CNN's Athena Jones reports.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the biggest public health crisis in a century threatens to get a lot worse, the warnings to the unvaccinated are getting stronger. In Alabama, the state with the lowest vaccination rate in the country, 34 percent.

GOVERNOR KAY IVEY (R), ALABAMA: The new cases in COVID are because of unvaccinated folks. But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.

JONES: Republican Governor Kay Ivey is fed up.

IVEY: These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain.

REPORTER: What is it going to take to get people to get shots in arms?

IVEY: I don't know. You tell me. Folks are supposed to have common sense.

JONES: As the more contagious delta variant supercharges COVID-19's spread, especially in places with low vaccination rates, the country is now averaging more new coronavirus infections a day than during the first surge in spring 2020. Cases up 65 percent over just last week, and almost four times higher than a month ago. COVID hospitalizations rising nearly 30 percent nationwide in just the past seven days, almost all among the unvaccinated.

And with the daily pace of vaccinations at the lowest point since January, doctors and government officials are begging the unvaccinated to protect themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just seems like we're just fighting a losing battle here.

JONES: As experts warn the more the virus circulates among the unvaccinated, the greater the chance of so-called breakthrough infections among those who are fully vaccinated. Still, doctors stress.

DR. TANYA ALTMANN, PEDIATRICIAN, SPOKESPERSON FOR THE AMERICAN ACADEMY PEDIATRICS: There are some breakthrough infections. I've seen them in my practice, but it's mild illness. So that's a huge difference. And that's what vaccines do. JONES: And with millions of children set to head back to school, a CNN

analysis finds less than a third of eligible kids are on track to be fully vaccinated against COVID in the next two weeks. And while public schools in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Chicago are mandating masks for everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We parents should have the right to choose whether or not our kids are suffocated by these masks all day.

JONES: Debates over masking in schools becoming heated from Virginia to Illinois.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are simply making decisions based on your own fears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The experts have spoken. I would like the school board to continue universal masking.

JONES: Experts argue.

DR. RICHARD BESSERR, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: We have to be honest that we're asking people who are fully vaccinated basically to sacrifice because it's so hard to enforce vaccination -- mask wearing based on vaccination status.


JONES (on camera): Now, along with Alabama, Mississippi is the only other state to have fully vaccinated less than 35 percent of its population. And Alabama has also seen an additional roughly 500 people hospitalized with COVID over the past week, up 60 percent from last week. That's according to the latest community profile report published by the White House COVID-19 response team -- Pamela.

BROWN: Athena Jones, thank you so much.

Joining us now is Dr. William Schaffner. He is a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

So, Dr. Schaffner, you just heard Alabama's governor.


Should we blame unvaccinated people for the rise in hospitalizations and breakthrough cases right now?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Well, I don't know about blaming, but it's certainly a fact. The hospitalizations out there right now, the people who are coming in are unvaccinated, 98 percent of them. The vaccines are keeping vaccinated people out of the hospital. And, yes, this delta variant is spreading principally among vaccinated people. You know, some of the people in my --

BROWN: Wait, I just want to make sure, you said they're spreading principally among vaccinated people? Or did you mean unvaccinated? I just want to make sure I heard that correctly.

SCHAFFNER: Sorry. There are people in our intensive care units who give wonderful care to absolutely every patient, including drug users, the people who crash cars, all kinds of things. But they're getting a little grumpy at people who are coming in with COVID because they were unvaccinated, taking up all these resources and exposing all the healthcare workers to COVID. They don't really understand that.

BROWN: So, just to sort of button this up, and when I say unvaccinated in that first question, I mean the people who are willingly unvaccinated. Obviously not the people who have medical issues or kids who aren't eligible, but how much of the people who are willingly unvaccinated impact the vaccinated right now?

SCHAFFNER: Well, the people who are willingly unvaccinated, that's the pool in which this virus, the delta variant, is spreading so rapidly. There's spillover into vaccinated people. Fortunately, they tend to get mild disease. But nonetheless there's spillover into vaccinated people.

We could all bring this to a close if everyone who were unvaccinated would just come in, get vaccinated tomorrow. Within two weeks to a month, COVID would go way, way down.

BROWN: Bottom line, and it's not only the breakthrough cases. It's also you could give it to, say, I'm vaccinated, if I had a breakthrough case, I could give it to my unvaccinated children. So that's also the concern is giving it to others if you're vaccinated. At this point of the pandemic, if more people don't get vaccinated, do you want to see more mask mandates?

SCHAFFNER: I think they will begin to crop up here and there on a local level depending upon the extent of local transmission and the acceptability of those mandates by the population, which will vary across the country, I'm afraid.

BROWN: It will. And I think the reality is those places of the country with low vaccination rates are probably the least likely to impose mask mandates. But let's talk about as we look ahead, this is where we are, where are we heading. COVID cases and other respiratory illnesses like the flu typically get worse in the winter when we're indoors. If we're seeing a rise in cases now when it's summer, what does that mean for what's to come in a few months?

SCHAFFNER: Well, we're very concerned because flu will be back along with other winter respiratory viruses. We'll have a lot of respiratory illness. There will be continuing COVID spread. We'll be doing a lot of testing trying to sort out who's got the flu and who's got COVID. And speaking of the flu, when September, October comes around, please get vaccinated against flu also.

BROWN: The flu numbers, if I recall, were down this past winter. Do you expect that to happen again or no?

SCHAFFNER: I don't expect that to happen again. The flu numbers were very low because we all stayed at home, we social distanced, we wore masks, and particularly the children didn't go to school. They spread the virus amongst themselves, the flu virus, and then bring it home to their elders. Now that schools are opening up, our masks are off, we're back in business, we're going to have flu once again.

BROWN: So you're going to have that double whammy, flu and this virus, assuming that more people aren't going to get vaccinated in time, we won't return to immunity by that point. You have kids who are between 12 and 17 who are eligible to get vaccinated. But a new CNN analysis finds that less than a third of them are on track to be fully vaccinated in the next two weeks when school starts. That is millions of teens.

What's your message to them and their parents?

SCHAFFNER: My message is simple. Twelve and older, please get vaccinated, make your contribution to your own safety, your family's safety, and your school's safety. Please get vaccinated.

BROWN: I want to talk about another hot topic today. That is the NFL. In an effort to get more players vaccinated, the NFL said, teams that experience an outbreak among unvaccinated players might have to forfeit a game, even forego their pay. Dr. Fauci says he thinks this is a good idea.

What do you tell those who are vaccinated who feel like they're being punished for someone else's decision?


SCHAFFNER: I think it's time they spoke to their teammates. Why aren't those unvaccinated teammates playing for the good of the team? Get vaccinated, pitch in, protect the entire team. It makes sense to me.

BROWN: All right. Dr. William Schaffner, thank you so much.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

BROWN: And just a few weeks ago, President Biden said we gained the upper hand against COVID. How the White House messaging is changing now and whether new mask guidance could be on the way.

Plus, don't let your children get stuck with the dreaded number one pencil. Why back-to-school shopping could be an even bigger fiasco this year.


BROWN: The new COVID surge has led the White House to change its tone and put new urgency on those unvaccinated. Not even three weeks ago, President Biden was pushing this message of progress and recovery in his July 4th speech.


Let's listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks to our heroic vaccine effort, we've gained the upper hand against this virus.


BROWN: And now the White House is taking a stronger stance towards the unvaccinated.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our objective is to communicate to people this is not a political issue, it is not a partisan issue, this is about protecting lives.

BIDEN: All the major scientific operations in this country and the 25- person group we put together are looking at all the possibilities of what's happening now.


BROWN: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

So, Jeff, the White House press secretary kept saying these situational conversations happen all the time, they never stopped. But the bottom line is this pandemic has changed course just in this last week. So could they be close to a policy in change or guidance?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, that is the open question here at the White House. They certainly are looking at this delta variant very carefully. You heard the president say right there that they are investigating all of the changes. So I asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki earlier today what exactly he's looking for. And she said specifically where the delta variant is spreading, how it is spreading. If there is a change in mask guidance, we are told it is going to be coming from specific changes in data.

Now, the White House, of course, puts all these changes on the backs of the CDC. So they don't necessarily even know here if a change is coming down. But they are going to study all of this and see if a change is needed. At this point they are saying there is no change in guidance, but that of course could be the next thing requiring masks or recommending masks at least for the vaccinated. But they're not there yet, Pamela.

BROWN: And the press secretary also said today vaccines, as you point out, they are not required for White House staff. How does that square, though, with its aggressive push to get more people in the general public vaccinated?

ZELENY: It's a little mind scratching frankly, because the White House is going to such great efforts and lengths to encourage the unvaccinated to get vaccinated. We learned today again that the White House is not mandating their own staff to get vaccinated. And Psaki declined to give an exact percentage. Officials I have been talking to say it's a very high percentage.

Officials, most of them are vaccinated. The rest of them have some of the same questions and concerns as average Americans do. So they said they're working through the process, education with medical information.

So, it's not that many we are told, but there are at least some White House officials who are not vaccinated. But the broader point here is they are trying to use the same arguments to get people vaccinated largely by saying this delta variant is so much more infectious and it spreads even more, Pamela.

BROWN: But it is worth noting that they're not being transparent about the exact number.

All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.


BROWN: Well, almost 7,000 miles away from the White House, masked First Lady Jill Biden waved to the crowd at the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. That brings us to our sports lead, and what could be the first-ever no-fun-Summer Games with the spectator bands, no roaring crowds and that athletes shouldn't intermingle.

CNN's Will Ripley joins us now from Tokyo -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, you say that the First Lady Jill Biden was waving to the crowd, but there wasn't much of a crowd in the stadium, Pamela. There were 950 VIPs in attendance including Dr. Biden, the French President Emmanuel Macron. And there were about 6,000 or so others in terms of like journalists.

There were the athletes of course in the parade of nations. But it was a dramatically scaled-back experience. They tried to make it feel familiar. But it feels so different this year because we are in the middle of a pandemic.

So the athletes, there are fewer of them who are marching, carrying their flags. You had of course some of the familiar faces like that well-oiled Tongan shirtless flag-bearer who's always been a hit from Rio and South Korea. You had Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez for Team USA. But in the end, I mean, what was hanging over all of this was just the fact that there was no one in the stands and the cases are so high here.

BROWN: And a majority of the Japanese public opposes the games. How are they making their voices heard?

RIPLEY: I mean, there were protesters outside of the stadium. Eight in ten Japanese, according to public opinion polls, have been calling for these games to be canceled for months, saying that it's crazy to try to do this, to have hundreds of countries and thousands of athletes and journalists coming from all over the world in the middle of a pandemic. And Japan's seeing some of its highest case numbers in six months. There are also supporters who are glad that the games are happening.

And I've talked with some of those folks at well. But, yeah, overwhelmingly the polls show that most Japanese just don't get why this is happening.

The short answer why it's happening is there would be a huge fine if Japan were to cancel it going against the IOC, and there is ad revenue and sponsorships and all the rest to think about.


Really it's about dollars and cents in many ways and Japanese say that they're putting money over lives here.

BROWN: If you would just take us through a little bit more of the highlights and the lowlights of the opening ceremony.

RIPLEY: So, I thought one of the coolest parts was the drones that created this, like, 3D globe over the Olympic Stadium. It was so cool. Just to see them flying synchronized like that is always really amazing. Obviously, there was a very Japanese almost minimalist flare to the performance aspect. But I think for me and probably a lot of our viewers who were watching at home, it's just seeing the faces of the athletes and the joy as they're coming out there, taking in this experience, taking selfies, jumping out and down.

And I think that's really what's going to save this Olympics. Yes, COVID has really been dominating the narrative up to this point. But if the cases can stabilize and if people can just get involved and if the athletes are having a good time, then hopefully these Olympics will begin to feel a bit more normally, Pamela.

BROWN: And the huge honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron went to Naomi Osaka. Tell us about that moment.

RIPLEY: Yeah, this is probably the perfect representative for these games that have overcome a postponement and a pandemic to now showcase Olympic triumph. You have Naomi Osaka who's had her own very publicized mental health struggles. And she was the one who lit the cauldron.

She obviously is a hometown super star here and a superstar all around the world. So it really was a shining moment for her after overcoming some personal difficulties, much like many of these athletes competing in these games and the games themselves.

BROWN: It's nice to see highlights like that at a time where the Olympic Games are so different than what we are used to seeing.

All right. Will Ripley in Tokyo for us, thank you.

Former President Trump's political group reportedly raised tens of millions of dollars so far this year. But what he's not spending that money on is raising eyebrows.


BROWN: Topping our political lead, former President Trump heads to Arizona this weekend to boost the big lie that the election was stolen from him, which we know is not true. This as the so-called audit of the 2020 votes in Maricopa County launched by Arizona Republicans continues.

Let's launch right into it with our panel of ladies wearing red. You've got on red shoes.

So let's talk about this.

I mean, really it's stunning what "The Washington Post" is reporting, that former President Trump's political PAC stockpiled $75 million, and most of that money is staying in its war chest. I mean, why not put your money where your mouth is?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the billionaire presidential candidate is someone who's also known for never wanting to really risk his own money when it comes down to it. There's a lot of talk and very little action. And I think it really demonstrates that at the end of the day what this is all about that war chest is all about is his own political future, what happens to him, his ability to run again in 2024, and not so much financing this sham audit in Arizona, which I think even his advisers know is probably not worth the investment.

BROWN: And it's just fascinating if you take a step back, he raised so much money off the big lie. Now that money is not going to the supposed issues, you know, that he has raised, which we know that election was safe and secure. And if you go to Texas, and what's really happening across the country but in Texas particular, Barbara Comstock, Texas Republicans have introduced this bill in the statehouse to audit 2020 election votes. The bill's sponsor, State Representative Steve Toth, told "The Washington Post" he only wants to focus on the big counties, the big Democratic leading counties instead of doing a statewide audit. Quote, this is what he said. What's the point? I mean, all the small counties are red.

So clearly he's saying the quiet part out loud here.

REP. BARBARA COMSTOCK (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, VIRGINIA: Yeah, unfortunately, and the big lie is continuing to be a big distraction in not just Arizona and Georgia and Texas, but it's also getting Republicans off focusing on big issues that are facing people, issues that actually would help Republicans like the economy, like public safety. And like so many other issues, education getting kids back to school.

So this has been a huge distraction, it's financially draining, people are giving money, as you pointed out, 75 million to the president's account. And then you have a lot of these fraud candidates who are going out there saying, hey, I'm going to go to Arizona, wasted money again, while Republicans actually want to win back the majority, but they have these sort of fools and sore losers and sort of grifters out there that are really a huge distraction to that mission.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And this very much is part of the Republican strategy going into the midterms, and it's not all Republicans certainly, but a faction of these Trump loyalists especially who have made integral to their messaging this notion that the election was stolen to the point where now you have polls showing that a majority of Republican voters do believe that the election was stolen even though of course we know that is simply not true, and it's to the point where they're fundraising off of it at rallies, they're handing out Trump one merchandise, and so really trying to galvanize the base around the big lie.

And so there is the political. And then of course there are the policy implications where this is also being used by Republicans in a number of states to advance laws that will restrict access to the ballot.


BROWN: What do you think, Kirsten? Do you think that this will galvanize Democrats?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think -- I think basically what they're trying to do is undermine people's trust in the electoral process because all of this always has to be seen through the lens of destabilizing democracy, which is always what Donald Trump has been doing.

So I think that they want to also delegitimize wins when they happen with Democrats. It makes everything not a legitimate win, and you can view people as stealing votes. And then, finally, it justifies, in their minds, trying to suppress the vote. Because they use the voter fraud thing to basically say, well, we're justified in passing these laws that make voting more difficult just so happens to be for black people. It just so happens to be for people who tend to vote Democratic.

And so, all of it kind of fits together. So there's very much a strategy to it. This is not just some scatter shot --

REP. BARBARA COMSTOCK (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, VIRGINIA: It's not a very good strategy for Republicans to win because, as we saw in georgia, it suppressed their own vote. And I think a lot --

BROWN: But then the law that was passed --


COMSTOCK: I think that might also suppress and have backlash against Republicans in many ways because Republicans as well as Democrats have gotten used to convenience in voting, and they want it. They want to have more access. They want it to be easier.

If you're a professional, if you're a mom, there's a lot of Republicans who like early voting. If you're a doctor or in the health profession, you might have somebody sick on Election Day. So Republicans are not thinking this out. And I think a lot of it could backfire on them.

POWERS: But the thing is Republicans don't have anything to run on. And so when you don't have anything to run on and you don't have anything to get people to turn out, then that's what they're thinking. They're thinking what we have to do is we have to try to keep other people from voting for Democrats because what are they going to run on?

COMSTOCK: Well, like I said, if they ran on public safety in the economy and things like that instead of Trump, Trump is a huge distraction for them that is driving away even though, as you point out, a lot of the base voters still like them, they may be the loudest, but they're increasingly polls are showing John Bolton's done some good polls, state by state, showing that Republicans are peeling off from Trump and they know he's not just a loser, he's a sore loser who's not going to win again.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think Barbara makes a good point about the kind of shortsightedness to some of these voting laws. I mean, Republicans under Trump have done so well among people who might not have shown up at elections in the past. These are low-information white voters in rural places.

And, yeah, they might want to take advantage of some of the more convenient ways of voting. And instead of messaging to those folks, whether it's on the policy or on how they can vote conveniently, Republicans are in a shortsighted way passing laws to limit early voting -- some early voting, limit access to ballot drop boxes and so on and so forth in a way that could hurt their own voters. I think this is something to be looking at as we go into 2022.

In Georgia, it backfired on them because Trump literally told people don't go to the polls, don't vote. But when they need voters to show up in a midterm election, they need these low-propensity white voters who Trump brought out of the woodwork. Are they going to show up when it's harder for them to vote, too?

SIDDIQUI: It's also something that the White House does feel like it has to counter. You've seen them focus more on the issue of voting rights, especially as they have faced some calls from civil rights activists who really use the bully pulpit and also mobilize Democrats around the issue of access to the ballot. Vice President Kamala Harris, this is really a dominant theme for her.

And she's been holding these listening sessions with election workers, poll workers and officials, as well as black civil rights leaders and also the private sector, because they do feel like because voting rights legislation is stalled in Congress, one of the ways to kind of counter the Republican messaging is to try and get Democratic voters to also care about this issue going into the midterms and hope that they can use this as a point of public pressure.

PHILLIP: We'll see what happens.

Sabrina, former Congressman Barbara Comstock, Kirsten, Abby, who, by the way, this is your last weekday before maternity leave. We'll miss you. Thank you all so much for that.

And you can catch Abby Phillip hosting "INSIDE POLITICS" Sunday. That's at 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

Well, wildfire so massive, it has created its own weather system including tornados. CNN joined fire crews up next.



BROWN: The megafire is burning out West pushing smoke and haze all the way on the East Coast. National fire officials count 83 active wildfires burning right now. The largest by far is Oregon's Bootleg Fire, as CNN's Lucy Kafanov reports.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A massive wildfire scorching more than 400,000 acres. Flames reaching the tops of trees spread by the whipping winds. These videos shot during the height of Oregon's Bootleg Fire so volatile it created its own weather system. You're looking at a cloud generated by the fire's intense heat called a pyrocumulus cloud.

JOE TONE, INCIDENT MANAGER, BOOTLEG FIRE: I haven't been in a fire that has had as many pyrocumulus developments as this one.

KAFANOV: Here's how it happens, just as the sun heats the air creating clouds, the fire's heat, smoke, and water vapor rise, sometimes creating thunderstorms with lightning, high winds, even tornados, spreading the fire.


Watch this time lapse video of a pyrocumulus cloud forming over a fire in northern California. The pressure building up inside can be dangerous to firefighters on the ground.

TONE: It falls apart, but it falls apart much more violently than a typical rainstorm, and winds come down right back towards the ground. The winds go every direction, and they could be 30, 40, 50 miles an hour, and that's happened several times on this fire.

KAFANOV: We joined fire crews deep in the mountains where progress is now being made on containing the Bootleg Fire.

Dixon Wesley Jones is cleaning up spot fires now. But just a week ago he was caught in the fire's unpredictable weather pattern. This video showing him pulling back as a helicopter drops water over a fire raging out of control.

DIXON WESLEY JONES, WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER: It sounds like a train almost. It sounds like something crashing through the floors.

KAFANOV: This is the view from underneath the intense skies created by the bootleg fire. Justice as firefighter Eric West was pulled back for safety.

Is there any fear or adrenaline kicks in?

ERIC WEST, WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER: Adrenaline, sure, yeah. If you have fear, this isn't the job for you.

KAFANOV: More human air and wind shifts are helping the firefighters up the containment levels. But the ground is so dry, the fire is still not under control.

You can see and hear this little fire behind me. It's one of the many challenges firefighters are dealing with. Conditions are so incredibly dry, there is just all of this fuel on the ground. This stump is on fire.

And then this fire migrated over. It's going to burn this tree, but firefighters aren't concerned because it's already burned so much of this area there's really not that much more left for it to burn.

Overnight, the fire jumping the containment line. More evacuations issued firefighters still working to secure the outbreak. In the line of fire, this is part of the defense. Crews thinning trees to create a fuel break. The bigger the fire, the more trees they have to remove. It's the new reality of fighting mega fires in the American west.

TONE: I hope it's not our future, and maybe it's just a cyclic event, and things will calm back down. But it doesn't look great.


KAFANOV (on camera): And, Pam, fire crews have benefitted from lower winds and higher humidity levels over the past few days. That's helped them get it roughly 40 percent contained. But that has now all changed. As of this hour, the Bootleg Fire is under a red flag warning, the crews now at the mercy of the weather -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Lucy Kafanov, thank you so much for bringing us the latest there.

Well, parents know just how difficult back-to-school shopping can be. But this year it may be even worse.



BROWN: Dangerous and unethical. That's what some in the medical community are calling the British government's handling of coronavirus.

As CNN's Scott McLean reports, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pleading with residents to stay safe as the country battles a dramatic surge in cases.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson showed up in parliament remotely. He's self-isolating after meeting with his health secretary who tested positive for COVID-19.

Opposition leader Keir Starmer was forced to quarantine too after a separate possible exposure not long after he stood in parliament to say this.

KEIR STARMER, UK OPPOSITION LEADER: I can't believe that the prime minister doesn't see the irony of him spending Freedom Day locked in isolation. Mr. Speaker, when it comes to creating confusion, the prime minister is a super-spreader.

MCLEAN: The prime minister also managed to spread anger and outrage. Thousands of doctors and scientists from the UK and abroad signed a letter calling him to lift almost all restrictions in England a dangerous and unethical experiment. That experiment involved ditching masks, limits on social gatherings, and even letting festivals restart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of us have had at least our first dose of the vaccine. So, we're ready to get back to life.

MCLEAN: Yet hours after it began, Johnson was pleading with people to be careful.

BORIS JOHNSON, UK PRIME MINISTER: Please, please, please, be cautious.

MCLEAN: And for good reason. The U.K. has the most new confirmed daily infections on earth, despite two-thirds of the adult population being fully vaccinated and almost 90 percent having at least one shot. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forced to self-isolate, and some British industries are warning that staff shortages could lead to food and fuel shortages. Shoppers are already finding empty store shelves in several parts of the country. The U.S. State Department is even warning Americans to stay away.

GABRIEL SCALLY, VISITING PROFESSOR, PUBLIC HEALTH AT UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL: The U.S. was entirely right. More countries should be more cautious about their citizens coming to the U.K.

MCLEAN: Virtually all new cases in the U.K. are the faster spreading delta variant which was first spotted in India. Back in early April, mandatory hotel quarantine was imposed on travelers coming in from neighboring Bangladesh and Pakistan. But those coming in from India didn't face the same restrictions until two weeks later. Critics say it was too little too late.

SCALLY: A very major mistake. And one they should've avoided because they had been warned about it repeatedly. Britain has an island advantage, but it didn't choose to take advantage of that.

MCLEAN: For weeks Johnson's government has defended its plan to lift remaining restrictions by asking --


JOHNSON: If not now, when?

MCLEAN: While cases are high, the vaccine has helped keep deaths and hospitalizations relatively low compared to the January peak. According to government data, most people ending up in hospital are under 50. A staggering 93 percent of them are not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all.

For some, it wasn't by choice. While the U.K.'s vaccine rollout was once the envy of the world, it's been very slow to vaccinate young people currently fueling the surge in cases. The government is still imposing a 12-week gap between doses. Some clinics offering people the second dose earlier were told by national health authorities to turn people away instead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just refused to get my second shot -- primarily because I'm three days short of reaching the eight weeks.

MCLEAN: This just as a recent study in the journal "Nature" found a single dose gives precious little protection against the delta variant, leaving millions of young people exposed. While the U.S., Canada, and Europe have allowed vaccinations of kids over 12 regardless of their circumstances. The U.K. so far does not plan to following suit.

Since the pandemic began, Johnson's decision-making has been marked by a dizzying series of U-turns on lockdowns, masks, and mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers. Just last week the government promised fully vaccinated Brits could return from all countries on its amber list without quarantine before announcing different rules just for France.

SCALLY: The most serious problem I have with this government is their complete absence of a plan, of a strategy, and an inability to explain what they are trying to do and where they're trying to get to. They are making it up as they go along.

MCLEAN: Perhaps worst of all government scientists have also warned that the combination of high prevalence and high levels of vaccination creates the conditions in which the immune-escaped variant is most likely to emerge. How likely is that? Scientists don't know.

Brits who are just starting to get back to normal life are hoping they never have to find out.


MCLEAN (on camera): And London night clubs will surely be packed tonight. The prime minister wants now those clubs to voluntarily restrict entry based on testing or vaccination. Though most clubs say they won't, not at least until September when vaccine certificates will be legally required. Meanwhile, the threat of food shortages in the U.K. today forced the government to exempt thousands of food distribution workers from mandatory quarantine, Pam.

BROWN: All right. Scott McLean, thank you so much.

And it's not just the United Kingdom facing more shortages. Parents, you're going to want to listen to this -- retail experts are expecting a school supply shortage to kick in as soon as this week.

CNN's Tom Foreman joins me now.

So, Tom, families may still be in summer mode here, but this back-to- school season is going to be different than any other, right?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, if you want to get shopping, you may already be too late. Take a look at this list which the retail analysts say will be hard to come by items in the next few weeks before all those kids go back to school -- backpacks, stationery, mean notepads, index cards, things like that, laptops and tablets, sporting equipment as well. In other words, pretty much everything that everybody wants.

Why? Some reason as everything else, pent up demand after a year at home and problems in the supply chain. Shipments from all over the globe have been slowed down by a lack of labor to make and move these goods and those shortages are driving up costs too, Pam.

BROWN: Well, let's talk about cost because a lot of parents I know wait until later in the summer to try to cash in on deals, on sales. Is that plan still viable under these circumstances?

FOREMAN: That's probably a terrible plan this year, Pam. It doesn't seem so. The National Federal Retail Federation says school spending should hit a record $71 billion this year. And if you look year to year in that spending that means the average family of a kid in elementary through high school will spend about $850 on supplies back to college spending will be up, too.

That means there's no reason to think demand is going to shrink or that supply is going to grow substantially. So there are very few triggers for big back-to-school sales. Still, parents are caught in a vice. The vast majority, 76 percent of K-12 shoppers were still waiting on lists of school supplies as of earlier this month, and only 18 percent have completed their back-to-school shopping.

This is a mad dash in the making. So, bottom line is some somebody says what are your plans this weekend. Your plan should be to get school shopping done before picking through the discards.

BROWN: All right. That's important advice there. Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Well, the new baseball team that already has a 72-year World Series drought. That's next.



BROWN: In our sports lead, changeup. Cleveland's professional baseball team announcing a name switch after 100 years as the Indians, ball players will now brandish the name the Guardians.

The first Native American Cabinet Secretary Deb Haaland tweeted: The long practice of using Native American imagery in sports teams has been harmful to indigenous communities. This is a welcome and necessary change.

The official name change will happen after the 2021 season's last run.

Well, be sure to tune in Sunday for "STATE OF THE UNION." Jake Tapper will talk to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Republican Senator Pat Toomey, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Oregon Governor Kate Brown. That's 9:00 a.m. and Noon Eastern.

You can also catch me every Saturday and Sunday starting at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Our coverage on CNN continues now.