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The Lead with Jake Tapper

COVID Spread Sharply Accelerates, Topping 100K New Daily Cases; Florida Governor DeSantis Calls Biden a "Tyrant" For Pushing Mandates; U.S. Intelligence Digging Through Trove of Data from Wuhan Lab in COVID Origins Investigation; New Details Reveal Extent of Trump's Push to Overturn Election; New Details Reveal Extent of Trump's Push to Overturn Election; Alabama Ties Arkansas for Lowest Vaccination Rate in U.S.; California Mountain Decimated by State's 6th Largest Wildfire. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 05, 2021 - 16:00   ET



MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS LEAD WRITER: Leave it to Wall Street to figure out a way to really get the attention of the unvaccinated.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: That is an incentive for you.

Matt Egan, thanks so much.

EGAN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: And thank you for joining me. I'm Victor Blackwell.

THE LEAD with Jake Tapper starts now.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: The new warning about variants even worse than delta.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Ninety-five percent of the country is now seeing a substantial amount of COVID spread as the delta variant takes over, but there is some good news.

Then, within two hours, our town was gone. A whole community essentially wiped out by a wildfire. We are live on the ground.

Plus, five days straight of cancelled flights leaving passengers stranded and angry. How long will it last?


Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown.

And we begin this hour with our health lead. Momentum is building for a vaccine requirement as we learn sobering new details about the pandemic. More than 103,000 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 just yesterday. Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that number could double soon if Americans don't take action. Hospitalizations have spiked more than 40 percent. The spikes in cases and hospitalizations being seen across all age groups, not just the elderly or the frail.

The Biden administration says there is a silver lining, however. More people are heeding the warnings and getting vaccinated. More than 864,000 doses reported a ministered in one day, and the majority of those were getting their first shot. The administration offering high praise for businesses, universities and health care systems that are implementing vaccine requirements for workers or even customers.

But as CNN's Nick Valencia reports, that could be much tougher for mom and pop businesses.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. poised to cross 100,000 average new coronavirus cases per day again, a 48 percent increase from just last week.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Driven by the more transmissible delta variant, cases are continuing to rise. These cases are concentrated in communities with low vaccination rates.

VALENCIA: Right now, nearly 95 percent of the United States lives in a county where the CDC recommends masking indoors and children under 12 are still unable to get the vaccine.

DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: I think we've let our children down. As a general rule children catch this virus from an adult. They depend on those around them to protect them.

VALENCIA: The data shows at least seven states banning mask mandates for schools have the lowest vaccination rates for teenagers. In Atlanta, kids returning to the classroom today must wear masks. Some parents sending their kids back in person questioning their own decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a little nervous again. You know, are they going to wear masks? Are they not? There's a lot to consider.

VALENCIA: But in Arkansas, a parent's choice to mask their child in school being debated by the legislature during a special session after the governor changed his mind about stopping mask mandates amid growing concern of the highly infectious delta variant.

In Nevada, all teachers and school staff must wear masks. Virginia's governor just instructed all students and staff to make up indoors.

GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA: The CDC guidance is that people in schools need to be wearing masks.

VALENCIA: The school district in Austin, Texas, getting around Governor Greg Abbott's mask map date for schools by making children wear masks on school buses. The Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tells CNN schools have the tools to keep kids safe in the classroom.

MIGUEL CARDONA, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: This is preventable. This isn't delta variant. This is -- policies preventing that are students from getting to the classroom safely.

VALENCIA: In other parts of the country, private businesses are putting their own rules in place requiring customers to show proof of vaccine, but the White House COVID task force indicating business owners are on their own when it comes to how to enforce this or get proof.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, SURGEON GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: We have seen a significant movement in the private sector to develop the vaccine verification efforts. We know that this is not something that the federal government is leading, but we are happy to see the private sector leading and taking initiative on that.


VALENCIA (on camera): The White House COVID task force praising vaccination momentum saying in the last 24 hours, there's been 864,000 vaccinations report administered. Over half of those were first-time dose. That's the most since July 1st and adding to the sense of urgency, Pamela, is not only cases going up, but the CDC ensemble forecast projects hospitalizations and deaths also likely to rise -- Pamela.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, you often see that when cases go up.

All right. Nick Valencia, thank you.

And joining me live to discuss, Dr. Peter Hotez. He's co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital.


Great to see you, Dr. Hotez.

So, as Nick just laid out there, the Biden administration is eager to highlight businesses, hospitals and universities with vaccine requirements. Do you think these requirements are behind the spike in vaccinations we're seeing?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VACCCINE DEVELOPMENT, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: I think it's probably a mixture of what we're seeing, yes. Some mandates, particularly now that there's advanced notice that Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may be approved sooner rather than later. I think they may be buoyed by that.

But also, I think what's happening, especially here in the south, they are suddenly realizing that this delta thing is real. With all of the hospitalizations, especially young people, you know, it's getting to the point where many, many people here in the South actually know someone who is being hospitalized, and it's scary. And so, I think you're starting to see a bit of an auto correction.

You know, it's not ideal having to do this now during the surge because it takes time to fully vaccinate people, but better late than never.

BROWN: Yeah, they are seeing firsthand the reality of what happens if you're unvaccinated.

You've been keeping an eye on the new COVID-19 variant that was spotted in Florida. Dr. Fauci was asked today about future new variants, and here's what he said.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGIES AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: As long as the virus continues to spread you give it ample opportunity to mutate, and when you give an ample opportunity to mutate, you may sooner or later get another variant. And it is possible variant might in some respects worse than the already difficult variant we're dealing with now.


BROWN: So, one new poll shows that 15 percent of Americans aren't likely to get vaccinated ever. So are you worried any future variants will be much worse than this one, than the delta variant?

HOTEZ: Well, look, I mean, we've seen this over and over again. New variants emerge in the setting of vulnerability, and when the virus starts to accelerate, you start seeing new variants, and now, of course, we've got this new one in Florida that doesn't even have a Greek letter appended do it yet. It's called B-1621, originally in Colombia, South America, and now here in Florida, and it's worrisome.

And, of course, the frustrating part is this is all preventable. The had we really accelerated throughout May and June and fully vaccinated the country, you know, at rates that resemble what's in New Hampshire, if we did that here in the South, we wouldn't have to worry about this so much, but now we've created this vulnerability.

And this is why we're seeing a massive southern surge with similar numbers and new cases and hospitalizations doesn't look like the terrible surge that we saw last summer. And if you remember, I remember having a discussion with you last year, Pamela, about how horrified we were that we might get to 100,000 cases a day and that's what we're doing again. And yet again, we'll probably get up to 200,000 cases a day as Tony, as Dr. Fauci says.

So, you know, right now we've got to vaccinate as aggressively as possible, and the other thing, Pamela, that I'm really concerned about is down here in the south school starts sooner rather than later.

So a lot of schools are opening in August, in Louisiana, where the epidemic is the worst, they are already starting next week and that's going to be an accelerant. And so what we really have to start thinking about is also and no one is talking about is vaccine mandates to schools to keep our adolescents safe in the junior high schools, middle schools and high schools.

And I think we'll have to be forced to look at that seriously, but a now in addition to the hospitalizations, we're seeing pediatric ICU admissions going up, pediatric hospitalizations and that's going to really put a lot of pressure on governors to say where are we at with this? You know, at what point does ideology become less important than the future of our children?

BROWN: Yeah. Those numbers going up on pediatric patients is really concerning. Again, we don't know at this point if this virus is just so much more transmissible in more kids or exposed to it or if it is in fact more dangerous towards children, right?

HOTEZ: Yeah. I think that's it. I don't think this virus is necessarily targeting kids or adolescents. I think what's happened is what you're seeing across the South right now is a forest fire and everything is getting swept up in it, including adolescents, including younger kids. And -- and the way you stop that is you -- you get as many people vaccinated, especially the adolescents, but the more you can vaccinate, you can actually slow transmission or even potentially halt transmission.

But the bar is high. We're talking about 80 percent of the population. That 80 percent -- not 80 percent of the adults but 80 percent of the population which means all of the adolescents and all of the adults. And if you say that's not possible, well, they are doing it up in the Northeast. That's accelerating towards that.

We've got to do this for the rest of the country.

BROWN: All right. Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you so much.

HOTEZ: Thank you.

BROWN: And meantime, the surge for the origins of COVID continues.


Coming up, a CNN exclusive, what intelligence officials are digging through to try to give answers.

Plus, an American citizen sentenced to prison abroad and now his location is unknown.


BROWN: In our politics lead, the feud between the White House and Florida's Republican governor are getting even uglier today. This afternoon, Press Secretary Jen Psaki accused Governor Ron DeSantis of putting Floridians at risk by going against public health recommendations. But DeSantis says by banning mask mandates, he's protecting the rights of parents to make decisions for their own families.

And as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, there are no signs that either side is ready to back down as COVID rages out of control in Florida.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So we're here to state the facts.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Florida breaking its pandemic record for COVID-19 hospitalizations, the White House is delivering a blunt message to the state's Republican governor.


PSAKI: Twenty-five percent of hospitalizations in the country are in Florida. It is also a fact that the governor has taken steps that are counter to public health recommendations.

COLLINS: For days, Governor Ron DeSantis and President Joe Biden have feuded over COVID-19.

DESANTIS: Joe Biden suggests that if you don't do lockdown policies then you should, quote, get out of the way, but let me tell you this. If you're coming after the rights of parents and Florida, I'm standing in your way. I'm not going to let you get away with it.

COLLINS: DeSantis went further, calling Biden a power hungry tyrant in an email and Press Secretary Jen Psaki fired back.

PSAKI: Frankly our view is that this is too serious, deadly serious, to be doing partisan name-calling. That's what we're not doing here.

COLLINS: Meanwhile, the rising COVID cases are taking a toll on President Biden's approval numbers. A new poll finds that 53 percent of people approve of his handling of COVID-19, down from 65 percent in the same poll in May.

This coming as the administration is facing new questions about its own COVID-19 data. For weeks, top health officials have cited figures like these.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last month, a study showed that over 99 percent of the COVID-19 deaths have been among the unvaccinated people, 99 percent.

COLLINS: But today, the CDC director acknowledged those numbers don't account for the highly contagious delta variant.

Do you still stand by these numbers, and do you have government data to back them up?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: So those data were data that were from analyses in several states from January through June and didn't reflect data that we have now from the delta variant.

COLLINS: Walensky emphasizing the overwhelming majority of those hospitalized or dying of COVID-19 are still among the unvaccinated while not providing any updated data.

A former top Trump health official is criticizing the CDC.

ADM. BRETT GIROIR, FORMER COVID TESTING CZAR UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: The CDC was quoting data from Canada, the United Kingdom and Israel because we don't have any of our own. That is a crying shame. We absolutely need to collect data. COLLINS: The Biden administration also confirming they are considering

mandating that all foreign nationals who enter the U.S. be vaccinated. Though a decision isn't final, and there are no plans to lift travel restrictions for now.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: The United States will maintain the existing travel restrictions at this point.


COLLINS (on camera): Now, Pam, we were just on the south lawn with President Biden and reporters asked him about these latest comments from Governor DeSantis saying he's going stand in the way of the federal government trying to get involved in his response to COVID-19 in Florida, and this is what President Biden said.


BIDEN: Issue.


REPORTER: Governor DeSantis who was using your words about don't be in the way, and he was saying, I am in the way to block too much interference from the federal government. Your response, Mr. President?

BIDEN: Governor who?


BIDEN: That's my response.



COLLINS: So, Pam he says, governor who, that's my response.

BROWN: There you have it. Kaitlan Collins live for us from the White House, thanks so much.

And now, for a CNN exclusive in our health lead, U.S. intelligence agencies are digging from mounds of data that came from a lab in Wuhan, China and could be key to uncovering the origins of COVID-19.

CNN's Katie Bo Williams joins me live.

So, what exactly is in? What are these teams looking for in this data, Katie?

KATIE BO WILLIAMS, CNN REPORTER: So, bottom line. Intelligence officials are looking for clues to try to determine whether or not this virus originated naturally in the wild or whether or not it might possibly have escaped or leaked somehow from this lab in Wuhan. So specifically what they are looking for is they are looking for

genetic blueprints of viruses that are similar enough, that are a close cousin enough to SARS-CoV-2 as we know it today that they might be able to create, that scientists might be able to create a sort of genetic history how the virus evolved, but this is a big ask because we're talking about a lot of data here. So it's a little bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

BROWN: It is.

WILLIAMS: And some of the scientists we spoke to in the course of reporting this story told us, you know, look. We don't really believe that there is a lot of viruses that -- that the lab in Wuhan was working on, that we researchers work on this stuff all the time didn't already know about and even more, making this even tougher for the intelligence community, even if they do find a virus sample that is essentially a kissing cousin to SARS-CoV-2, they are still going to need a lot of other context and information to be able to reach a high confidence assessment about the pandemic's origins.

BROWN: Right. So it wouldn't necessarily be a smoking gun if they did find something that was that close.


And as you point out oftentimes intelligence communities, labs they know about what other labs are doing because they post it online. Of course, the Wuhan line took off their -- their data sequencing and so forth in September of 2019. So it's unclear, right, if this is that, but there's so many challenges beyond just going through all and sifting through it, right?

WILLIAMS: Right, exactly. So the two big problems that the intelligence community has to overcome here is, one, computing power. They have to allocate the massive computers at the national labs to be able to process this huge swath of data.

Number two, they have to have specialists who are both the right kind of scientists, have the security clearance and they have to speak mandarin. And not just any mandarin, technical mandarin.

BROWN: Wow, yeah.

WILLIAMS: That's a lot.

BROWN: That will be hard to find.

WILLIAMS: All right. Katie Bo Williams, thank you so much. Excellent exclusive reporting.

Well, it's all adding up, a look at the lengths President Trump and his allies went to try to attempt a coup. That's next.


[16:25:37] BROWN: In our politics lead, new details about just how far former President Donald Trump was willing to go to overturn his loss in the 2020 election. We now know a top Justice Department official was ready to resign over what he said were Trump's direct instructions to use the department to push the big lie, and Trump told the acting attorney general to, quote, just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me.

And Trump's chief of staff sent several e-mails in December urging the AG to look into conspiracy theories about the election.

Let's discuss all of this with our panel. We have a robust panel today.

But, Evan, I'm going start with you. You cover the Justice Department. You're talking to sources. This is really remarkable.


BROWN: Because what we're seeing emerge now is a paper trail evidence of an attempted coup by not only the former president of the United States but also his allies. What is the current Justice Department going to do about this?

PEREZ: Well, I mean, one of the things that -- that we can tell from the fact that these documents that were -- that we've now all seen in public, that they have been turned over to the -- to the Congress, it tells us a lot. It tells us that the Justice Department isn't treating this as a sensitive law enforcement matter. That tells us that they are not doing an investigation. There's not any charges that are going to be brought against these people for this, or at least not that we can tell at this point.

And I think that's going to create a reaction certainly from some of the critics of the former president, but it also tells you that they want Congress to deal with this because in the end, I think they see this as a political matter, and if you look at those e-mails. These are lawyers. They wrote things in a way that perhaps covered themselves, in a way that would make prosecution difficult.

And if you think about this administration, I think one of the things that they want, they want to focus on their own priorities. They don't want to spend all their time relitigating the past four years which I know is going to upset some of the current president's supporters.

BROWN: Yeah. What do you say to those Democrats who want the Biden administration to do more, who want DOJ to do more?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, I would say you're right, Evan. I think what President Biden wants to do more than everything is for people to focus on his agenda. There's so much to do, and they are -- they literally have so many things on their plate.

But I'll say this. This information I think should terrify everyone. We were on the verge of losing our democracy, and if it wasn't for Jeffrey Rosen who stood up to the president and said no, we're not doing this and then perhaps resigning --

PEREZ: A bunch of people never even heard about it.

CARDONA: Right, exactly.

BROWN: Right, those we know behind the scenes, right.

CARDONA: Exactly. I mean, we came so close to our democracy melting down. Now the Biden administration is going to focus on their agenda, but what is part of their agenda? Voting rights, and voting rights is completely connected to this episode because if it wasn't for the ridiculous big lie and all of the insane laws that Republican legislatures are trying to pass, then we wouldn't be in this situation.

And by the way, those laws should be just as scary as the documents that we are reading in the Justice Department's new trove now because now you have laws where if they go through and they are deemed constitutional, which I hope that they are not, the party in power can overturn an election if they don't like the result.

BROWN: In some states like Georgia and so forth, yeah.

CARDONA: Come on.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think the Attorney General Merrick Garland is in a very tricky position especially as more of these revelations come out. Now, on the one hand, if it hadn't been for the Justice Department's decision not to exert executive privilege over these conversations, we may not have known about a lot of this conduct and the efforts by former President Trump to directly use the Justice Department to try and overturn the election.

But if you think about the mandate that garland came in with, it was to restore the integrity to the Justice Department, and once again try and at least in the eyes of the public reinforce that this is an independent institution, and that is part of why when he's been asked about whether or not there's going to be a comprehensive investigation into the previous administration he's pointed to the department's inspector general investigating some of these matter, including efforts to overturn election.


But he says he does not want the department to real be behind that kind of comprehensive review because it risks politicizing the work of the career officials there. At the same time though because they have said that a lot of their mandate is about restoring the rule of law, there are some critics who want this Justice Department to make it more clear through some kind of consequences that no one including a former president is above the law.

BROWN: Bill, you're being very quiet. What do you think?

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: Well, I think -- I think Merrick Garland has done a very good job honestly. He's bent over backwards, especially in the first few months, not to go along with certain political wishes of the left and people in the White House and be very strict about the Justice Department. But he made the key decision, without which we would not any of this, probably wouldn't know any of this, which is to say we are not going to exert, to defend the claim of executive privilege for this particular -- these particular events, post-election Trump White House interference in the attempt to -- to overturn the election which is extremely unusual.

BROWN: Right.

KRISTOL: I mean, I left the White House in January of 1993. There was no thought -- obviously, the Justice Department was going to defend the confidentiality of the Bush administration, White House contacts with the Justice Department just the way they did with their own.

BROWN: That's a key step.

KRISTOL: And the attorney generals as you know, you cover justice, the attorney general said no. This is exceptional. We're not going -- they can say they want to -- people don't have to testify or they can fight that out with Congress.

So, again, what's happening -- what we're learning is a two-fold thing and it's a powerful combination. A congressional committee or set of committees with subpoena power, with the ability to get people to testify under oath and possibly compel the testimony on the one hand and no claim of executive privilege to clock the testimony on the other, and you put those two together. We learn a lot.

BROWN: But do you not think? I mean, you've been a critic -- an outspoken critic of former President Trump. Do you not think DOJ should be doing more, or do you agree with what officials have been telling Evan that this is more of an issue for Congress?

KRISTOL: Yeah. I mean, look, if there's a crime, people have an obligation to -- if there's clear evidence of criminality, they have no case to pursue it. But in this case with the president, I think it's better -- let sunlight in, let Congress act as it chooses, and if there's other issues the U.S. attorney's office can deal with it, but, no, I think it's -- I think the attorney general has handled this very well.

BROWN: I was going to -- go ahead.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was going to say, we might very well find out something else, right, in the coming days?

BROWN: Well, that's what I was going to say, and scarily enough, I was -- I was talking to a source earlier today who said there is a lot more that was happening behind the scenes in the White House and so forth that we don't even know about despite all the books and so forth. There is more to unpeel.

But as we put this in a context, I want to end with you, Evan. Max Boot said this in a recent piece. He said the effort to minimize and normalize what happened on January 6th is laying the groundwork for a potentially more successful coup attempt the next time around.

The reality is that Donald Trump right now is the GOP front runner for 2024. He could win. He could be more emboldened.


BROWN: What do you hear from officials that you're talking about the concern moving forward?

PEREZ: Look, I think that is a concern. I think the concern is that if there are no consequences, that -- and certainly if the political part of our government doesn't deal with this, then we're going to be back where we were. I mean, our system -- I think what's emerging from that these documents and from what we're going to hear from these interviews, some of these people are willing to testify, by the way. Former Trump officials aren't going to testify and what you'll hear is that our system was stretched to its ultimate limit.


PEREZ: And I think we -- we kind of got a hint of that, but I don't think -- I think any of us really appreciates how much of this was going on. Not only among people at the Justice Department and even people like Pat Cipollone at the White House who were trying to serve of as guardrails around the president, the former president.

BROWN: Really individuals.

PEREZ: It was individuals.

BROWN: That were stepping in.

CARDONA: Thank God.

BROWN: That's chilling.

PEREZ: They all wrote memos and that's helpful.

BROWN: And that is -- you know, a lot is being turned over. Not everything, but a lot is being turned over

CARDONA: Stay afraid.

BROWN: And we're learning.

All right. Thank you all so much, Sabrina, Maria, Bill, Evan.

BROWN: And coming up, we went to one of the least vaccinated states where more people are actually now getting the shot. So what changed?


[16:38:26] BROWN: In the national lead, nearly half of all new COVID cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. come from seven states, Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. And they are also among the states with the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

But there is a sliver of good news in some areas. Shots are going into arms faster.

CNN's Miguel Marquez went to Birmingham, Alabama, to see what's changing minds.


JOAN CHANG, MOM: What color is this?


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joan Chang, mom to 2-year-old Samantha, 19 years married to Joseph Milwood, 33 weeks pregnant with their son and last week, she got her first coronavirus vaccine shot.

CHANG: It has got to a point where no one is wearing masks, okay, and then you're hearing about this variant.

MARQUEZ: The highly contagious delta variant now taking hold here.

Alabama has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Nearly every county experiencing a high level of community spread, and most worrying, hospitalizations are shooting up statewide at a rapid rate.

JOSEPH MILWOOD, HEALTH CARE WORKER: This virus, it doesn't know race. It doesn't know gender, age. So it -- it's very -- it's very scary.

MARQUEZ: Joseph who works in health care and knows too well what COVID-19 can do to the human body was vaccinated nearly a year ago and says he's been encouraging his wife to get it, too. She's not worried about the vaccine's effect on her unborn son. She just didn't see the point in getting it.


CHANG: I've been working at home since last year, March, so I don't really go out, but it got to a point where you turn around, people are getting sick. People I know are getting sick.

MARQUEZ: UAB Hospital, the state's largest, was putting thousands of shots into arms daily in the spring. A month ago, it dropped to less than 100 a day. Today, it's a couple of hundred.

VANESSA DAVIS, INJECTION CLINIC SUPERVISOR, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: They are starting to worry about their kids going to school. They are going back into the office and they are going back into the classroom and so, parents are worried. MARQUEZ: As life gets back to something resembling normal, businesses

reopening, masking and social distancing fading. Twenty-year-old Ellen Norris says the vaccine gives her the confidence to re-engage in the world.

ELLYN NORRIS, RECEIVED FIRST DOSE OF COVID VACCINE: Yes, yes. I just -- I'm ready for everything to be close and back to normal. I don't think anything will ever be completely normal. I think that that will take a while. I think the more we take our part in doing this, then we can get close to doing that.

MARQUEZ: Keith Snow says going on vacation is even enough to get the shot.

KEITH SNOW, RECEIVED FIRST DOSE OF COVID VACCINE: Me and my wife is getting ready to travel, so she tell me that we will need it in order for us to travel, so here I am.

MARQUEZ: Casey Krzeczkowski, 23, says between her nursing job and the economy opening up, it was time to get vaccinated.

CASEY KRZECZKOWSKI, FULLY VACCINATED ALABAMA RESIDENT: COVID is not officially gone so now that the mask mandate is gone, I feel like if I was not going to be wearing my mask anymore, I should probably still protect myself.


MARQUEZ (on camera): Now, look. I don't want to overstate it. There is a hard core number of people in the state of Alabama that are never going to get vaccinated no matter what, but as the economy opens up, as people start to engage in the world again, as that delta variant spreads, we've got a lot of people who are finally making the decision to get the shot. The only hope now is that the trickle of new vaccinations will turn into a torrent -- Pamela.

BROWN: Absolutely, like the one woman you spoke to, she's seen people who have gotten sick from this, and that's what seemed to propel her to get vaccinated.

All right. Miguel Marquez, thank you.

One of the largest fires in California state history burning through the equivalent of 24 city blocks every minute. We're live on the ground up next.



BROWN: So, this is now California's sixth largest fire ever. The Dixie Fire, about five hours north of Sacramento. More than 322,000 acres burned, homes destroyed. This is main street in Greenville, California, now gone.

Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa represents that area and got emotional when he called on leaders in Washington to help.


REP. DOUG LAMALFA (R-CA): There's not words for -- all of us in the government haven't been able to get the job done. We've got to win this. We've got to stop this. We go to get D.C. to pay attention. We've got to get Sacramento to pay attention.

Forget the politics. Forget the nonsense. We have to stop making this happen by inattention to what is obvious.


BROWN: CNN's Josh Campbell just arrived in that area and he joins me live from Chico, California.

So, this fire is on a destructive path, Josh. Are people taking up the evacuation orders there?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPODENT: Yeah. Pamela, sadly not everyone is evacuating despite the warning from authorities. We're told by officials that they were going door to door in this area warning people to leave and some opted to stay behind and we're waiting for an update.

Take it a look at this video from Greenville last night. This was a town that was completely destroyed, ravaged, homes, businesses, completely gone, and although it was tough to get out of that town, it was also tough to get in.

Look at this video we got from San Diego fire and rescue, one of the many agencies providing mutual aid here. You can see this convoy working its way towards the Greenville fire really shows you the bravery of the firefighters, working through the embers, working through these hot zones in order to try to get there, to try to save property, to try to save lives.

Of course, they still have a lot of work ahead of them. But at this point, Pamela, this fire only 35 percent contained.

BROWN: Just awful to see those images, and the fire exploded overnight and burning another 40,000 acres in just 12 hours. What is making it grow so quickly?

CAMPBELL: In short, heat and wind. It's incredibly hot here. The red flag warnings remain in effect. You can look over my shoulder. I'll show you, this is the plume of this fire as it continues, just incredibly massive, and what we can see from this -- from this column here, the fact that it's fractured shows us that this is still largely a wind-driven event.

We're told that the wind there on scene, about 30 to 40 knots. This system is so intense it's creating it own weather system. You can you see the clouds that are enveloping above this fire that continues, over 300,000 acres burning right now. Again, only 35 percent contained. No end in sight here. Officials just gave us a warning a short time

ago of new evacuation orders that are going out to other parts of this area. Again, sometimes these fires can be hard to predict. They are trying to get people to heed these warnings as they go door to door, warning them about what's coming their way.

BROWN: All right. Josh Campbell, thank you so much.

And turning to our world lead, an American imprisoned in Russia mysteriously gone. The State Department says it does not know where Trevor Reed is being held after the Russian government sentenced him to nine years in prison last summer.


CNN's Moscow correspondent Matthew Chance joins me live.

So, Matthew, Reed's family thinks he may have been transferred to a prison camp. Is there any way to confirm that?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a way of confirming it, yes, which is that you speak to the Russian prison authorities which we've done, and they decide whether or not they want to answer you, and they decided on this occasion they are not answering us. They have not answered American diplomats who have also been lobbying them to try to get the whereabouts of Trevor Reed and they ever not answered his family as well who have been desperately trying to get some kind of an answer.

But the fact is when a prisoner in Russia is moved from one facility to another one as Trevor Reed has been. He's been in a holding facility in the capital Moscow and he's been moved apparently 400 miles away from Moscow to a penal colony in Mordovia, which I think, you know, sounds just as bad as it actually is, prison authorities don't have to by Russian law tell anyone until a certain amount of quarantine and isolation has -- has passed.

And so, I think that's what we're in the middle of now. It's been three weeks since there's been any contact with Trevor Reed, and there's a lot of concern about his welfare because a couple months ago, Trevor Reed was very ill with COVID-19 inside a Russian prison in Moscow, and there were concerns, real concerns about his health. But, you know, we'll see what happens over the coming days. I mean, the expectation is we'll eventually emerge which penal colony this former U.S. marine has been taken to to serve out the rest of his sentence.

BROWN: All right. Matthew Chance, thank you for bringing us the latest there from Ukraine.

Well, one man's flight cancelled twice, and he's just one of the many passengers left stranded and angry by Spirit Airlines.


[16:56:31] BROWN: And our money lead, Spirit Airlines passengers, well, they are angry. For the fifth straight day the discount airline cancelled hundreds of flights citing staff shortages, weather and website problems. Some travelers have had to camp out for days. And ticket holders are taking to social media to air their frustrations. One said women and children are forced to sleep on the floor because pilots and other employees have walked out on their job.

CNN's Pete Muntean tracks down travelers who are plain furious.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cancelled flights and hours long lines at airports across the country after Spirit Airlines axed more than 45 percent of its schedule today, including more than two dozen flights here at Baltimore Washington international airport alone.

WAQAR AHMED, TRAVELER: Very angry. I'm pissed. It's the worst thing I ever saw in my life here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to get to my destination and never have to deal with Spirit Airlines again.

MUNTEAN: Spirit says overlapping operational challenges began over the weekend attributing the problem to bad weather and staffing shortages. The airline acknowledged the breakdown on Tuesday of an IT system that controls crew scheduling but now it insists it rebooted its network and says cancellation numbers will progressively drop in the days to come.

SARA NELSON, PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: We had people who were stranded in hotels. They were being evicted from hotel rooms.

MUNTEAN: Now, with more than 400 new cancellations today, Spirit has cancelled more than 1,600 flights since Saturday.

Kevin Robinson's flight to Austin got cancelled twice.

Have you ever had an airline experience this bad before?

KEVIN ROBINSON, TRAVELER: No, this is actually the first time in all of my years that I've encountered something like this.

MUNTEAN: Also stranded is 8-year-old junior Olympian DeMario Mitchell (ph). He has plans to run the 1x100 relay in under a minute and now his family is trying to race him to Texas any way they can.

DEVONA MITCHELL, TRAVELER: Sad, frustrated, and I'm -- I'm really sad for him at this point.


MUNTEAN (on camera): A top industry analyst tells me this could hurt Spirit's reputation in the short term, but in the long term, it will really not have much of a business impact. He says eventually, people will forget all of this if the ticket price is right -- Pamela.

BROWN: I hope that junior Olympian gets to where he needs to be for that.

So, Pete, the timing, of course, only makes matters worse, right? More people are starting to travel again right now.

MUNTEAN: So many people are coming back to flying, Pamela. It's the peak of the summer travel season and in a way spirit says that is working against them. Their planes are already full making it harder for people on cancelled flights to find an empty seat on a different flight and get to where they need to go.

BROWN: All right. Pete, thanks so much.

And moments ago, President Biden took a victory lap around the White House lawn in an electric Jeep. The right after announcing a lofty goal of making half of all cars in American roads either electric or hybrid by the end of the decade.

Well, today's executive order targets the biggest share of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That would be transportation. But the youth climate activist group Sunrise Movement doesn't think Biden's goal comes close to crossing the finish line saying FDR didn't set a goal to half win the war and JFK didn't set a goal to get halfway to the moon. If we are still selling gas cars in 2030, they will on the road for another 10, 15, 20 years.

The United States largest maker of electric vehicles, Tesla, was not invited to today's event. The White House suggesting the snub was because of an ongoing battle over a workers union.

Well, I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @PamelaBrownCNN, or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN.

Coming up CNN's Wolf Blitzer will talk with CDC director Dr. Walensky. Our coverage starts now.