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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Mixed Messages From Biden Admin Lead To COVID Confusion; CNN: Majority Of NY Assembly Would Vote To Impeach Cuomo; Ohio Primary Race Stokes Intra-Party Heat For Dems; Schools And Mask Mandates; Vaccine Mandate Expected Soon For U.S. Military; CNN Finds Possible Prison Camp To Jail Belarusian Dissenters; Frontier Airlines Flips, Now Issues "Support" For Crew Who Restrained Belligerent Passenger With Duct Tape. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 04, 2021 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Also, I just want to say, I do think we're burying the lead here. She says her favorite TV to watch is "The Bachelor" and CNN.

Hi, Jen.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: How is that in the same story?

All right. "THE LEAD" starts right now.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: The new pandemic problem, mixed messaging.

THE LEAD starts right now.

From vaccines to masks, Biden administration health officials are injecting confusion, leaving many Americans wondering what to do.

Impeachment or even charges. A majority of the New York assembly now says they would vote to impeach Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Plus, have you seen this? A drunk passenger duct-taped to his seat and the crew initially suspended. Why Frontier Airlines is suddenly changing course.


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

And we start today with our health lead. And while there are encouraging signs that more Americans are getting vaccinated against coronavirus, there is also worrying new data out today showing how great the threat still is. The highly contagious delta variant now makes up more than 93 percent of all new cases in the United States. That's according to the CDC. The number of Americans dying from COVID every day is up 42 percent from just last week. And hospitalizations are three times higher than one month ago. And we know vaccines are the best way to stop the spread. But

combating misinformation about the vaccines is still one of the greatest challenges for health officials. And the new poll out today shows that among unvaccinated Americans, 53 percent think getting the shot is a bigger risk to their health than catching COVID, 53 percent.

Adding to the confusion, the contradictory messages coming from the Biden administration. As CNN's Kristen Holmes reports from vaccine mandates to masking, the nation's top doctors are having a tough time staying on the same page.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the delta variant rages across the country, Americans are struggling to understand how to best protect themselves and others.


HOLMES: The top health officials in the Biden administration, only adding to the confusion with a series of contradictory messages, from masks to mandates. The communication about who should wear a mask causing whiplash.

DR ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: You have the opportunity to make the personal choice to add extra layers of protection if you so choose.

HOLMES: Just days after the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said masks for the fully vaccinated were an individual choice, a complete 180.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the delta variant and protect others.

HOLMES: Walensky saying new data was the reason for the shift, data not seen by the public for day, causing speculation and confusion.

This week a comment by the head of the National Institutes of Health left parents scratching their heads.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH: And at home, parents of unvaccinated kids should be thoughtful about this, and the recommendation is to wear masks there as well. I know that's uncomfortable. I know it seems weird. But it is the best way to protect your kids.

HOLMES: Dr. Collins tweeting a correction but ultimately, Dr. Fauci had to play cleanup.

FAUCI: Parents do not need to wear masks in their own home. That is the right answer. Dr. Collins said he misspoke. And I give him great credit for admitting it very, very quickly of saying that he misspoke. HOLMES: Messaging over a vaccine mandate, no clearer. Just a day after

the White House COVID-19 response coordinator told CNN the administration was not considering a nationwide vaccine mandate, the CDC director contradicted him.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Are you for mandating a vaccine on a federal level?

WALENSKY: You know, that's something that I think the administration is looking into.

HOLMES: Remarks later backtracked in a tweet reading, to clarify, there will be no nationwide mandate. I was referring to mandates by private institutions and portions of the federal government. There will be no federal mandate.

And while booster shots appear to be off the table, just last week --

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, SURGEON GENERAL: I want to be very clear, people do not need to go out and get a booster shot.

JEFF ZIENTS, COORDINATOR, BIDEN'S COVID-19 +TASK-FORCE: Right now, they are certain that no Americans need boosters.

HOLMES: It's unclear for how long.

MURTHY: I think it's very possible that we're going to require boosters, and it's possible we're going to know that fairly soon.


HOLMES (on camera): And a senior administration official tells me that this is the result of evolving science, that the delta variant is part of the reason you're seeing these changes and this might seem like a back and forth. And one thing I want to note that is incredibly important is there is one thing that all health officials have remained consistent on even though there is some confusion, and that is get the vaccine.


Americans need the vaccine, it is the best way to protect yourself and to protect others, Pamela.

BROWN: And that was the big message we heard from President Biden yesterday as he was trying to reset the messaging as well for the administration.

All right, Kristen, thank you so much.

And joining me now to discuss is Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease, Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Great to see you, Michael. So, we just heard there --


BROWN: -- Kristen detailed some of the really confusing messages coming from top officials in the Biden administration. What kind of impact does that have on public confidence?

OSTERHOLM: Well, it is a challenge, and particularly when in fact the media then accentuates it by saying this person versus that person versus that person. Not that they shouldn't, but it only make it's more confusing.

I think the challenge we have right now as it was noted is we're in a stage of what I call corrected science, meaning that we're learning about a lot of things as we go and we don't have the luxury of going and publish them or putting together advisory groups then coming out months later with a recommendation. You're getting it pretty much as it happens.

So I think this is going to always be a challenge, but we've got to do a much better job of trying to coordinate these messages. A good example is, when we're going to need a booster? Well, we're waiting to see what happens as we get more and more people who are vaccinated, six, eight, nine months out from their vaccine. And only then will we know if we need a booster.

And so, we should just expect that we're going to continue to see corrected science occurring.

BROWN: And adding to that confusion, other countries are giving booster shots. And even here in the U.S., hospitals on their own are starting to do that. So, all of that also adds to this confusing picture in this evolving pandemic. And there's also confusion when it comes to protecting kids, especially with some states banning mask mandates in schools.

So, bottom line here, Michael, what do parents need to know right now about keeping their kids as protected as possible from this virus?

OSTERHOLM: We just s have to tell parents the truth, even if it's not easy, even if we don't have all the answers. For example, we do know that children do transmit the virus to each other. We do know that they can get infected and we know that children can transmit the virus at home, to mom and dad, older brothers and sisters. We don't have a perfect way to protect them. You are absolutely right. Right now the vaccines, as you know, are only approved for those 12 years of age and older. They're coming, but it's still a long ways off.

Second of all is the fact that when we try to talk about protecting children with masks, we know that the kind of face cloth coverings that kids wear may have some benefit, but it's surely not the same level of benefit we'd like them to have as if you were an adult and wearing an N95 mask.

And so, the bottom line message is that when schools open in a few weeks, we're going to expect to see some challenges and we're going to see transmission. And we just have to acknowledge that. The good news if there is any good news and it's only, I think, a hint of good news, is that kids don't get nearly as sick as often as do adults or their older sibs. And that's the one thing we can count on right now.

BROWN: So, just to be clear when it comes to the delta variant, even though we're seeing more cases among kids, we still don't know if it's any more dangerous toward kids, right? We just don't have that data.

OSTERHOLM: Right. The reason we're seeing so many new cases in kids right now appears to be just that the virus is transmitting that much more. So instead of a hundred kids being sick in a school, district, or in a neighborhood area, it's 500 kids. And now of those, the same proportion may be going to the hospital more severely ill. At this point, we can't say it's anything other than that. But it's very possible we may find that in fact twice as many kids are seriously ill as we saw before. But those data right now are just not forthcoming.

BROWN: And there are still so many kids unvaccinated, and people who are millions of Americans who are choosing not to get vaccinated even though they're eligible. Your new analysis shows that almost every single unvaccinated American who hasn't gotten COVID yet is likely to catch it. How soon could that happen?

OSTERHOLM: Well, as I've said time and time again for months, this virus is highly infectious. If you decide to try to run the game clock out, don't try to do it. This virus will find you, it will infect you eventually. And we just have to give people that sense.

Now, if that's not enough to motivate people to get vaccinated, then the only other things I think we have are the mandates that say if you're going to work here or go here, you have to get vaccinated. It's not just us trying to tell you we're trying to protect you, but if you are a case and you become infectious, you do two things.

One is you pose a risk to others including your own loved ones. But number two, you're also using hospital resources right now which in many instances are very, very short and coming, particularly if you look at the Southern Sun Belt States. They're at a real challenge right now for healthcare resources.


BROWN: You know, we started this conversation, Michael, talking about just how quickly this pandemic changes and why messaging has to change so quickly. And that is largely because new variants can come about. Dr. Fauci said a variant worse than delta could be coming. The next variant could be, quote, delta on steroids.

What do you mean by that?

OSTERHOLM: Well, basically the variants that we're concerned about in terms of their increased risk to humans have one of three characteristics or all three. One is they're more infectious, which we know delta is substantially more infectious even than alpha which that by itself was more infectious. Number two that they can cause more severe illness just related to the question you just asked about does it cause more severe illness for the number of people who are infected. And number three, does it have a way of evading immune protection?

Does it somehow get around the vaccines or get around the protection you get from natural infection? And any one of those three characteristics could make another variant worse.

And if you add all of them together, it could be worse. We don't have any evidence right now we have one that's worse. But I agree with Dr. Fauci that it surely is possible that one that could be more infectious than delta, which would be hard to imagine that being the case, could actually happen, and we have to be prepared for that.

BROWN: Okay. Michael Osterholm, thank you so much for --

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

BROWN: -- for your analysis and perspective on this.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

BROWN: And in addition to mixed messages, there is also a bunch of different rules. CNN went inside one school where kids can decide whether to wear a mask.

Plus, brand-new reporting revealing just how close some top Trump officials came to quitting. That's next. Stay with us.



BROWN: In our politics lead, the future looks from this time for New York governor Andrew Cuomo. CNN can now confirm a majority of New York state assembly members say they would vote yes to impeach him if articles of impeachment are introduced. This comes after the state's attorney general released a damning report detailing how the governor sexually harassed 11 women and created a hostile work environment.

Let's bring in CNN's Erica Hill.

So, Erica, the governor says he won't resign. Is this all but certain?

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, he says he will not resign. We have not heard any more from the governor today, he is laying low putting out a press release from a COVID update, but not addressing anything further from the report.

Here's where we stand, though. If the governor does not resign there is this impeachment inquiry we've heard so much about. CNN has been reaching out to state lawmakers. And I can tell you that 80 members now, both Democrats and Republicans, tell CNN they would vote yes to impeach if articles of impeachment were introduced.

Now, keep in mind how it works here is the assembly would vote then on those articles of impeachment. There are 150 members of the assembly, 106 of them are Democrats. Again, 80 have told CNN they would vote to impeach if the articles were introduced. They would need a majority. That would be 76 members to vote.

If that happens then, of course, there would be a trial. That would be in the New York Senate along with the judges from the court of appeals. Listen, there is a lot of discussion about whether the governor, while he is holding strong here and refusing to resign at this point, whether he would really want to go through an impeachment process and how much that may be weighing on his decision as we hear more and more calls, Pamela, for him to resign.

BROWN: And there are now at least four district attorneys who have requested materials from the A.G.'s office in order to possibly pursue criminal charges. That's another part of this. What are you hearing?

HILL: Yeah, that's right. So in the state we know that the district attorneys in Albany, Nassau and Westchester counties as well as here in Manhattan, they have all requested information from the state attorney general to look further and see if there could be any criminal charges. They have cited between them both comments from trooper number one and executive assistant number one in some of those requests.

BROWN: All right. Erica Hill, thanks for brining us the latest.

And also today, new details showing how close top Trump Justice Department officials were to resigning just days before the insurrection, amid increasing pressure from then President Trump to investigate the results of the presidential election.

CNN's Evan Perez joins me live.

What more are you learning, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, this was -- there was a resignation letter written by Patrick Hovakimian who was chief of staff to the then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. And, as you pointed out, this is -- this is how close things were. It was January 3rd, President Trump had had Rosen coming over to the White House. And everyone thought that Rosen was going to get fired simply because the Justice Department was refusing to say that there was fraud in the Georgia election or elections in all the investigations into the election.

The letter, which was written but never sent, and I'll read you just a part of it, says that, over the course of the last week, Jeffrey Rosen had repeatedly refused the president's direct instructions to utilize the Department of Justice law enforcement powers for improper ends. And, again, the anticipation was that Rosen was going to be fired.

Now, just to set the table here. January 3rd is the day, it's a Sunday, President Trump had Rosen and another official Jeffrey Clark come over to the White House where he had some kind of like something straight out of a reality TV show, something like "The Apprentice" where these two men essentially vied for the job, and the anticipation was that if Rosen was fired, Hovakimian and a number of other officials were going to resign in mass in protest of this move.

BROWN: Wow. So, Rosen wasn't fired.

PEREZ: He wasn't fired.

BROWN: But it seems as though a lot of officials in the Justice Department expected, and it just shows -- your reporting shows you how high tensions were and how much pushback there was with the Justice Department against these coup attempts, frankly, by the former president, weaponizing the Justice Department.


PEREZ: Right, this is the perfect -- that's the perfect word to use for this because it was essentially what these officials were fighting back against. And now, Hovakimian was interviewed yesterday by the House Oversight Committee. We expect that a number of these other officials are going to be coming days and we'll see what more we can learn from what they were experiencing in those extraordinary days.

BROWN: I have a feeling there's a lot more -- we both covered DOJ. We know there's probably a lot more to uncover.

PEREZ: We know there's more.

BROWN: Evan Perez, thanks so much.

And up next, two special elections that are revealing a lot about the Republican and Democratic Parties. We're going to discuss right after this.



BROWN: And we are back with our politics lead.

If you're wondering what to expect in next year's midterm elections, just take a look at what happened in Ohio last night, starting with the Democrats.

Voters in the 11th congressional district handed a victory to the establishment candidate Shontel Brown by a margin of more than 4,000 votes. Brown was backed by Hillary Clinton, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, and the Congressional Black Caucus. She beat progressive candidate Nina Turner, a longtime Bernie Sanders ally who now famously compared voting to eating a bowl of excrement.

Sorry to remind you about that. So, on that note --


Let's kick it off here. So, I mean, it really is interesting seeing how this played out in Ohio, right? We were all watching this because we hear Republicans often talk about how Democrats are these liberal socialists, right?

But then you see Brown's win in Ohio as well as Eric Adams in New York City. President Biden, sure doesn't seem like progressives have control of the Democratic Party.

ASHLEY ALLISON, FORMER NATIONAL COALITIONS DIRECTOR FOR BIDEN-HARRIS 2020: Well, as an Ohioan, I think Ohio voters are very far from socialism. If you look at the district in which Brown and Turner were running, that was former Secretary Fudge's district. Before that, Congressman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, very Democratic, black women, Northeast working-class folks. Nina turner has had success in the state, but her progressive agenda just didn't seem to resonate with voters.

So it's not that voters don't support her. But when put up against Brown, I think Brown just resonated more for that part of Cleveland.

BROWN: But do you think it's that district or do you think it's a broader?

MONA CHAREN, POLICY EDITOR, "THE BULWARK": I think it's a broader trend because in the Democratic Party, you at least have a battle going on about how who's going to control it, and it's about ideology. You've got the Sanders' wing, which Turner represented versus the Biden wing, shall we say, the moderates, Jim Clyburn very influential here. And the moderates have been winning.

In the Republican Party, you don't have any battle at all about ideology. It's all about whether you are beholden to the orange god king or not. And --


CHAREN: It's not ideological at all, and there aren't many who are non-Trumpy. I mean, there are occasional people. There's a guy Craig Schneider who just announced in Pennsylvania for the Senate race who's explicitly non-Trumpy. But those candidates are hard to find.

BROWN: I mean, the Republican who won in Ohio.

CILLIZZA: He was endorsed by Trump. Trump after Susan Wright who he endorsed last week. They really doubled down financially and otherwise to get this guy through.

Yeah, to me there's not really, like -- it's often painted as, oh, there's a fight within the Republican Party. Not really.


CILLIZZA: Donald Trump controls the Republican Party. Yes, occasionally someone else, this guy who won last week in Texas is a state rep who had a base in the district.

BROWN: Right.

CILLIZZA: You know, there are special situations, but if you're saying, would you rather have Donald Trump's endorsement in a contested Republican primary or not? The answer's yes. One stat, Ballotpedia has this, contested Republican primaries that Donald Trump endorsed in 2020, 21-2, which tells you anything you need to know. Nothing has changed.


CHAREN: And money, he's got $100 million he's been able to raise mostly from small donors.

CILLIZZA: But he's not going to be spending that on small candidates. I mean, that money -- Donald Trump controls the Republican Party, you want his endorsement. But don't fool yourself into thinking that Donald Trump is about anyone else other than Donald Trump.

The reason Donald Trump spent money on Mike Carey is because Donald Trump didn't want two straight losses in special elections.

CHAREN: That was that.

CILLIZZA: I mean, let's not -- we've learned that over the last five years.

CHAREN: But that very thing will motivate him to spend money in a few other places.

ALLISON: But I would say on that Democratic side, you had people, national figures, coming into that district endorsing Nina Turner. You also had a national future in Jim Clyburn coming in to endorse Brown. I don't think that played a part.

I think that these races are localized efforts. If you look at Eric Adams, Maya Wiley, they also had -- she had a very nationally focused campaign. But it was the local endorsements I think in the Democratic Party that go a long way. I think that is what the Democrats need to do in 2022.

BROWN: And you're seeing -- I mean, even though this was seen as a win for the more establishment moderate Democrats, progressives also have had a win this week. This effort led by Cori Bush on the eviction moratorium, now the White House reversed course under pressure, although it's legally dubious whether it's going to succeed.



BROWN: But, I mean, that shows that they still carry a lot of weight.

KIM: Right.

Well, there's two big kind of takeaways from that episode. First of all, the Squad, so Cori Bush, AOC, others have shown how they can marshal that power within Capitol Hill to get policies done immediately, as they have this narrow majority in the House and the White House and obviously the Senate as well.

But at the same time, there will be practical effects from a moderate such as Ms. Brown winning last night in Ohio, because we can take -- we can have the takeaways for -- in these off-year elections for what may portend next year or whatnot.

But the actual election is later this November. Nancy Pelosi has a very narrow majority in the House. And if you're Nancy Pelosi, do you want a Nina Turner as one of your view -- as one of the few members of your majority -- of your very thin majority or Shontel Brown?

I mean, I think it's fair to say Nina Turner would have been a very loud member of the Squad and could have been a thorn in Pelosi's side.

CHAREN: Do you think it would have gone differently, this decision about the evictions thing, do you think that would have gone differently if the election had been the day before, and they had already learned that Shontel Brown was going to defeat Nina Turner?

KIM: I think the eviction moratorium result was very kind of inside Washington and kind of the pressure that Congresswoman Bush and others built on the Biden administration.

I'm not quite sure what the Ohio results would have done with that. But, certainly, you do have these two kind of very interesting, sometimes complementary, sometimes conflicting dynamics within the Democratic...


CHAREN: But it does weaken the Squad and the progressive, what happened with Shontel Brown, right? I mean, it has to.

CILLIZZA: So, I don't -- I think what you saw Tuesday was relatively representative.

Unlike the Republican Party, right? There isn't a fight. I actually do you think there's like a legitimate disagreement about -- between younger, more liberal activist Democrats and older more establishment Democrats.

And as we saw, by the way, with Jim Clyburn and the Congressional Black Caucus, it's not people -- it's not white vs. black. It's -- this is much more about sort of how you approach politics.


CHAREN: No, and, in fact, the Jewish voters went for Shontel Brown in big numbers.

CILLIZZA: For Shontel Brown.

And so I think that's a real fight that both sides -- yes. I mean, without Cori Bush on the -- doing a sit-in, I don't know -- maybe Biden changes, but I'm not sure he does.

And quite clearly the moderate candidate won in Ohio. So I think you can point to -- and I think if we went back six months, or even back a year, yes, Joe Biden beat Bernie Sanders. That was the big one. But I think there are wins each way here. And, again, we're not talking about -- I'm going to -- an old name, John Breaux, a very, very, very moderate to conservative Democrat.

That's not Eric Adams. That's not Shontel Brown. These are people who are pretty liberal. We're talking about gradations that are pretty small.

ALLISON: But it was evictions.


ALLISON: In the middle of a pandemic, it's an issue that actually hits voters' hearts, and I think you have to do the right thing, because real people who have to vote in 2022 and in 2024 are going to lose their homes if something wasn't done.

CILLIZZA: That's true.

BROWN: All right, Ashley, Chris, Mona, Seung Min, thank you all so much.

And just in, a big new vaccine mandate expected as soon as this week impacting tens of thousands of Americans -- the breaking details up next.



BROWN: Breaking news in our health lead.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to make the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for all active-duty troops.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon.

So, Barbara, how soon could this announcement happen?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the indications we're getting, Pamela, is the announcement could happen by the end of the week.

Not a big surprise, we have to say. Let's explain. You will recall that last week President Biden ordered the Pentagon to take a look at how and when to make the vaccine mandatory for active-duty troops.

Secretary Austin said he wasn't going to let grass grow under his feet. He was going to get after it. So he's been talking to the services, talking to the medical experts about a way ahead on how to make the COVID vaccine mandatory.

Not exactly the Pentagon's first plan. They had hoped to wait until the FDA had that full approval for the vaccines. But the president's the president, he made the decision he wants to move ahead. And that's what the Pentagon is going to do.

Military members have any number of vaccines they are required to get as a term of their military service. The Pentagon doesn't think there's going to be widespread opposition to it. Right now, they're running about 60 percent for vaccination rate across the U.S. military, but they're going to have to take little time, figure out exactly how they want to do this, which will be the first units, which will be the first troops to get the vaccination once the decision is made -- Pamela.

BROWN: OK. Barbara Starr, thanks for bringing us the latest from the Pentagon.

And this week, students are back in school in Georgia. And the state is a case study in what in person classes may look like nationwide at this stage of the pandemic. Some counties requiring masks. Others make them optional.

CNN's Nick Valencia has the debate dividing one conservative community right outside of Atlanta.



NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dale Simpson is the principal at Barrow Arts And Sciences Academy in rural Georgia, where, this week, the school year started without a mask mandate.

SIMPSON: Good morning, Blazers. We could not be more excited to see you this morning.

VALENCIA: There's often butterflies on the first day of school, especially these days, but for Simpson the feeling is more sense of relief, even while the pandemic rages on.


VALENCIA (on camera): Are you putting students at risk by not requiring masks?

SIMPSON: I think that, in our school system, we're really honoring the parents and the students' personal decisions.

VALENCIA: And to those who say those personal decisions are making others less safe, what do you say?

SIMPSON: Yes, one thing that we're doing as a school system is monitoring the numbers.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Outside a drop-off, most parents we spoke to in Barrow County, a conservative community between Atlanta and Athens, weren't worried about wearing masks, even with COVID cases on the rise in the county, with a seven-day average of more than 20 cases per day.

The area's listed on the CDC tracker as having a high community transmission rate, where masks are recommended for everyone in public indoor settings. But parents like Miriam Robinson told us not wearing a mask gives her 14-year-old daughter the freedom to express herself. VALENCIA (on camera): Does that freedom of expression outweigh the concern you have about them getting sick?

MIRIAM ROBINSON, PARENT: I honestly am not very concerned about them getting sick.

VALENCIA: Why is that, even after you see hospitalizations go up and the data out there?

ROBINSON: We haven't seen that very much with children, though.

VALENCIA (voice-over): The American Academy of Pediatrics reported Tuesday almost 72,000 children and teens caught COVID-19 last week nationwide. They called it a substantial increase from a week earlier.

Kennedy Momen's mom wasn't about to let her daughter take any chances.

VALENCIA (on camera): Have you met anyone around here that thinks that this is just a hoax or that this is a phony pandemic?

TANJA MOMEN, PARENT: I have talked to a couple people that say that.

VALENCIA: What do you tell them?

T. MOMEN: It's real. You need to put your mask on.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Inside, her daughter Kennedy told us, while she felt safe, she was caught off guard by how few of her classmates were taking the same precautions.

KENNEDY MOMEN, STUDENT: I didn't know that many people would not be wearing masks. It's really different because everybody was wearing masks last time we had to.

YSHEENA LYLES, TEACHER: I think being an African-American and understanding what the pandemic did to that demographic, kids are well aware that they don't want to take those things home back to their family.

VALENCIA: Language arts teacher Ysheena Lyles not only teaches here. Her eighth grade son started the school year here in person. She thinks it should be up to students and teachers if they want to wear masks.

For her, the decision is case by case.

LYLES: I think other schools need to learn that with the proper precautions, the proper safety procedures, that it is OK to return back to the classroom and allow your students and their kids to get a quality education.

VALENCIA: For principal Simpson, the hope is students will learn this year in person without getting themselves or anyone else sick, mask or not. SIMPSON: This is a complex issue. And what we're doing here is we're

making decisions in the best interests of our kids, while honoring parental decision-making.


VALENCIA: The principal tells us that they have not ruled out instating a mask mandate if COVID cases should go up.

There is concern about the Delta variant, which is why the school has established an online academy for parents who are uncomfortable sending their kids in person.

But as you saw there in the piece, Pamela, most decided not only to show up in person. They did so without wearing a mask -- Pamela.

BROWN: Yes, that was such a fascinating, illuminating inside look at that school there in Georgia.

Thank you, Nick Valencia.

And coming up right here on THE LEAD: CNN obtained footage of a potential prison camp with cameras, electrified fences, surrounded by forests.

Where it is and who it might be for -- next.



BROWN: In our world lead, a possible prison camp deep in the woods of Belarus with guards and three layers of electrified barbed wire. The future prisoners? Opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko, who's hanging onto his almost 30-year tyrannical grip on power. It's a resistance emboldened by huge protests last year following Lukashenko's disputed election win, and renewed by an opposition activist's mysterious death this week in a Ukrainian park.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh takes us as close to the site as possible despite Lukashenko's henchmen patrolling nearby.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): A chilling sight not from the last century but last month. A possible prison camp built inside Belarus for political prisoners.

CNN obtained this footage of a witness who said it looked like a newly refurbished camp a half an hour's drive from the capital Minsk. A new sign saying "forbidden border and entry". A three-layer fence electrified, they said.

New moving surveillance cameras, and reflective screens on the windows of newly rebuilt barracks. No prisoners yet. What looked like a soldier inside and regular military patrols who told our witnesses outside to leave. One local talked to them anonymously.

My friend, Sacha (ph), a builder, told me they've refurbished this place, he says. There are three levels of barbed wire and it's electrified. I was picking mushrooms here when a military man came up to me and said I can't walk here.

The building sits on a vast site of a former Soviet missile storage facility surrounded by forest. The repairs came not long after defecting police officers released secret recordings of senior police discussing the need for prison camps at several sites.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The assignment to develop and build a camp, but not for prisoners of war or even the interned, but a camp for the especially sharp-hoofed, for resettlement. And surround it with barbed wire along the perimeter.

WALSH: Not surprisingly, CNN hasn't gained access to the interior of the site so we can't definitively say that it is intended for use as a prison camp. But a Western intelligence official I spoke to said that, quote, was possible, though they didn't have direct evidence.

In the current climate, it's tough to imagine what else the campaign could be full. Opposition leaders fear its possible use by President Alexander Lukashenko's forces during future protests.

FRANAK VIACORKA, SENIOR ADVISER TO SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: It's not surprising that he's trying to build something like a regular prison camp because the new wave of protests will come up anyway. It can be triggered by his statement. It can be triggered by an economic situation, but it will come. And he understands and he also wants to be prepared more than less in 2020. This is why I am not surprised if such camps are being built.

Walsh: Belarusian officials declined to comment and have called the recording about the camps fake news when it was released, saying they follow the law.

These images emerged after a weeks-long crackdown against remaining independent media inside Belarus and dozens of arrests. Inside Belarus, the protest movement's been persecuted so hard, it now holds remote flash mob demonstrations like these filled by drones.

But some of it is finding ways to hit back, CNN has learned. These are railway saboteurs apparently in action. They say their operations the details of which we aren't disclosing just trigger alarms that stop trains on the tracks, risking nobody's safety and causing traffic to slow down, they say. We spoke to one organizer.

When our skies are blocked, he said, we should block the land as well. The main goal is to cause economic damage to the regime because all the delays cause them to pay huge fines.

This action was carried out by a key route from Russia to the European Union. CNN can't independently confirm it was effective. If there is an impact on rail traffic, it could have great

significance outside of Belarus and here, Lithuania because so many goods from the east rely on this network to get to Europe.

Signs both sides could be adopting new harsher tactics and what may await fresh protests as the screws tighten.


WALSH (on camera): Possible opposition sabotage, possible authoritarian government, prison camps, it's startling, Pamela, just in one year how ugly this unrest has gotten. There are concerns -- you saw there how the protest movement is being crushed. But there will potentially be an anniversary in August which sees more crowds on the streets and another referendum possibly ahead to real concerns that prison camp, as it seems, there may actually be maintained for a reason -- Pam.

BROWN: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, thank you. Excellent reporting.

Well, a passenger duct taped to a seat after throwing punches. We're going to show you what else happened, up next.



BROWN: Well, that right there is the crew on the Frontier Airlines flight Saturday trying to hold down a belligerent passenger seen groping and punching a flight attendant. Then the crew tried another option, duct tape. At first, Frontier suspended the crew suggesting they handle the situation wrong.

CNN's Pete Muntean has the company's new about-face.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New video from a weekend Frontier Airlines flight shows what attendants called the ugliest case of an unruly passenger yet. Miami-Dade police alleged that Maxwell Berry ordered two drinks, spilled a third on himself, emerged from the bathroom shirtless, then groped the breasts of two flight attendants. Police say a third flight attendant was assigned to watch Berry when he started throwing punches.

Video then shows a flight attendant taping the passenger to his seat prompting Frontier to initially suspend its flight crew from the job.

TYRI SQUYRES, FRONTIER AIRLINES: After an incident like this we're going to do a thorough investigation and really review what happened, how it happened and how it was handled.

MUNTEAN: Now in a new statement, the airline says it is supporting the crew and the prosecution of Berry by law enforcement, an announcement that came after criticism from Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants. SARA NELSON, PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: All the crew

had on board that flight for any kind of restraint was duct tape. And so if we want flight attendants to be using other procedures, then we have to make that possible for them to have other tools and procedures to use.

MUNTEAN: The TSA is restarting flight attendants' self-defense training as in-flight issues are becoming more common. Of 3,700 cases reported to the FAA this year, so far, only 99 have triggered enforcement action. Police have already charged Berry with three counts of battery. But flight attendants say prosecution of other problem passengers needs to be just as swift.

REPORTER: Are you scared?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes, a little bit, yeah. You get on a plane full of people and some of them aren't very happy and you just never know what's going to happen.


MUNTEAN (on camera): We have reached out to the passenger in this case. Twenty-two-year-old Maxwell Berry of Ohio, he has not returned our request for comment, Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Pete Muntean, thanks so much.

And our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." See you tomorrow.