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Biden to Deliver Pandemic Response Speech; U.S. Surpasses 40 Million COVID Cases; Biden to Survey Storm Damage; Five Dead in Louisiana Senior Residences; Abortion Rights Supporters Scramble in Texas. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 07, 2021 - 09:00   ET



IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Survived three near freezing nights in the plunging temperatures of the Australian winter.

His exhausted mother says her boy is now home, warm and sleeping off the ordeal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I can't explain it. I'm so blessed. I'm so happy that he's here. He's with us. He's safe and well and healthy. That's all that matters.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: That is all that matters. What a resourceful little boy. I mean credit to him as well.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: That is amazing. Oh, my goodness. It makes me tear up a little bit.

Hey, Jim, thank you for being with us this morning. It's been great.

SCIUTTO: Nice to be with you. It's fun.

KEILAR: Yes, great fun.

SCIUTTO: Let's do it again.

KEILAR: All right.

CNN's coverage continues right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Tuesday morning. I'm Erica Hill.

Today, the United States passing another COVID milestone. Forty million total cases here in the United States. And there is currently no sign of that number slowing down.

And just to put this in perspective, more than 4 million of those cases were reported in just the last four weeks. The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases, 300 percent higher than it was at this same time Labor Day after last year. Tomorrow, President Biden, we're learning, is set to deliver a major

speech on the next phase of the pandemic recovery. According to sources, he'll layout key steps on what the White House and the federal government can take, those key steps that can be taken next in the fight against the virus. The speech will also contain multiple components related to schools, private companies and federal employees.

Let's get straight to the White House. CNN's senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly is standing by.

So, Phil, the president also set to leave this hour to tour storm damage in the Northeast. What more do we know, though, about this major speech as it's being called?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, no shortage of issues on the president's plate. But I think there's none that's more important inside the White House than the pandemic. Obviously, that's been the case since they took office on January 20th and it's become particularly acute over the course of the last several weeks. The White House advisers and policy team have been working on this -- these remarks now for several days, kind of keen on resetting, both on the policy side of things, but also the perception side of things.

You mentioned the case counts due to the delta variant, up over 160,000 per day. Think about Memorial Day. It was around 25,000 to 26,000. The death -- average death rate per day is somewhere between 1,500 and 1,600 as well. It is a real pandemic. It is a real problem. And the White House has long believed and long known that they have an answer. It's vaccinations. And I think you're going to see the president focus on that element of things, particularly on private businesses. Obviously, he's been urging private businesses to pursue mandates or requirements for vaccinations. You might hear some about travel as well. Talk about the federal workforce requirements related to vaccinations the president has already put in place.

But one of the focal points will be schools. Obviously, millions of American children have already gone back to school. Millions more will be going back today and in the days ahead. It is a real concern for parents, particularly as the delta surge has kind of enveloped the country over the course of the last several weeks in terms of, what are they supposed to do with children, particularly those who aren't eligible to be vaccinated yet.

When it comes to the perception side of things, I think White House officials are keenly aware right now that the -- their ability to manage and handle the pandemic was one of the bright spots over the first seven or eight months of the administration. That is starting to shift. You can see it in the numbers. You can see it just in how people feel and think at this point in time. Part of the president's efforts this week with these remarks will be to address that, try and flip that a little bit and try and give people the sense that the administration and the country can get a handle on this despite what we've seen over the course of the last several weeks, Erica.

HILL: Phil Mattingly, appreciate it, as always. We'll be watching as we learn more about that speech, again, set for tomorrow.

Meantime, hospitals in several states are struggling. In Alabama, there are 181 more ICU patients than there are formally staffed beds. CNN health reporter Jacqueline Howard joining us now with more.

So, Jacqueline, where do these overflow patients go if they need to be in the ICU but there is no ICU bed or staff to take care of them?

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: Erica, that's the issue, that's the problem that many communities are facing. And it really is, at this point in the pandemic, when we have vaccine available for people, it's incredibly sad and incredibly scary to see ICU beds filling up, like they are right now. And most of the patients that ICU beds are filling up with, unvaccinated patients.

And specifically in Alabama, just to focus there, again, ICUs are over capacity by dozens of patients. And more than half -- 56 percent of ICU beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients. You see here on this map. And, obviously, Alabama is not the only state facing this. And five other states, more than 90 percent of ICU beds for adults are currently occupied. Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi and Florida. And nationwide, Erica, about 80 percent of ICU beds across the country are currently in use.


So we see here, COVID-19 is not only driving patients to ICU beds, but also overwhelming our health care system. And one physician in particular, he took to Facebook to explain how he and his colleagues are, his words, drowning in patients who are dying with COVID-19.

Have a listen.


DR. LANCE VANGUNDY, EMERGENCY ROOM MEDICAL DIRECTOR IN IOWA: There's so much misinformation out there. We are drowning in people who are dying with this illness. And I have yet to admit a single person because of a vaccine-related incident.

Don't want to be political. I just need everybody to really know, in over 20 years of doing this, I've never been this busy or this stressed or seen this many sick people.


HOWARD: So you see here, health care workers are stressed at this point. And really to help drive down these hospitalization rates, they are encouraging people to get vaccinated if you haven't already.


HILL: Jacqueline Howard, appreciate it. Thank you.

To dig in a little bit deeper, joining us now, Dr. Amy Compton- Phillips. She is the chief clinical officer at Providence Health System in Seattle.

So, Doctor, President Biden, this week, set to outline these key steps in moving into the next phase of the pandemic. I'm just curious, in your mind, what do you see as the next phase here?

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER, PROVIDENCE HEALTH SYSTEM: Well, I think the most critical thing is something you already just talked about, Erica, and that is really, really getting those vaccines into people's arms because it is the way. Being able to actually ensure we have enough immunity to stop the spread of this germ in our communities is a way to get on top of this pandemic.

You know, something else you said in there is, it's the number of staffed beds that we're running into problems with. And right now the reason why you'll see health care workers out there beating the drums and shouting from the rooftops, get your vaccine, it's because we don't have enough staffing to take care of people that are continuously getting infected and coming in because they're not vaccinated.

So please, please, get those vaccines. We need to keep our health care workers on the job and we need to keep people healthy, home, and away from the hospitals so that they can live their lives and not end up dying in our ICUs.

HILL: So there's two parts of that, that I really want to drill down on with you. One is the staffing issue. And I have been in the ICU recently in two different hospitals in Mississippi and spoken directly with those ICU nurses and doctors, and they said to me, look, we have eight more beds in one case, but we can't staff them. So there's this staffing issue, the stress that we just heard about from the doctor in Iowa who said in 20 years he's never dealt with stress like this. That's one part of it.

But it's also just being able to take care of other patients, isn't it? I mean it's not just COVID patients who are coming into the ICU or who are coming into the emergency room. People may have, you know, appendicitis, there may have been a car accident. What happens to all of those folks?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Well, you know, it turns out that before COVID, our ICUs were pretty busy. And it's because people were having car accidents and heart attacks and needing complicated surgery and going to the ICU afterwards. And those people are being put on the back burner. So anything that's even remotely elective, we're cancelling those cases.

I was with a person this weekend who could barely walk because they needed a hip replacement. Had -- and for the third time now got his hip replacement surgery canceled because there weren't sufficient beds for him to go into to recover from surgery.

So we are postponing care that, you know, for you and I, we might say, that's an elective case. For him, he can't walk. And so if he can't walk, for him it's a life-changing thing to have his surgery postponed yet again. But that's what's happening is we're deferring care for other people

who need it because we have to triage and use the beds that do have staffing, that do exist and are staffed to take care of COVID patients right now.

HILL: We've been looking at these numbers, right, and cases this Labor Day versus last Labor Day, the seven-day average of new cases, up 300 percent. When you look at that, we know that last year there was a surge in 25 states of new cases two weeks after Labor Day, after the Labor Day holiday. What are you bracing for now?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Well, you know, we always have to hope for the best and plan for the worst. Now, part of that, some of the new cases are in people who are immunized because we're testing better. So let's not -- let's not get confused with testing better versus identifying people who are at risk for hospitalization because it does turn out that if you identify a breakthrough case in somebody who has been immunized, they have lower odds of going into the hospital.

But -- but the risk still exists. If those cases are being identified in people who are unvaccinated, we are having to prepare ourselves for having yet again another surge after the Labor Day holiday. And, by the way, after kids going to school because we also know that kids in schools who are, by their age, you know, anyone under 12 is unvaccinated right now, have higher odds of spreading this germ to people, not just in the school, but back at home again.


HILL: Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, always great to have you with us. Thank you.


HILL: This hour, President Biden expected to leave for New York and New Jersey, where he will get a firsthand look at the damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. We're going to take you there live.

Plus, the secretary of state says the U.S. is making progress on opening up Kabul's airport to get those remaining Americans still in Afghanistan out of the country. Those details just ahead.

And the U.S. attorney general says he's found a way to fight the Texas abortion law. We'll explain.



HILL: Soon, President Biden set to depart the White House for New York and New Jersey, where he will tour some of the damage and destruction left behind by Ida. That storm destroying entire neighborhoods. At least 52 people were killed across six northeastern states. Biden's first stop this morning is Hillsborough Township in New Jersey. And from there he'll head to the town of Manville for a tour before making his way to New York. This trip, of course, coming just days after his visit to hurricane

ravaged Louisiana, where Ida first made landfall.

Today in Louisiana, new questions and concerns after seven nursing home residents died. They'd been evacuated to an overcrowded warehouse.

Meantime, a heat advisory has been issued for parts of Louisiana today. Temperatures expected to soar as hundreds of thousands are still without power.

We are going to take you to Louisiana in just a moment, but let's begin this morning with the president's upcoming trip headed here for the Northeast.

CNN correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is in New York.

So, Shimon, what are you hearing on the ground ahead of the president's trip this morning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, some indication, Erica, is where we're getting some indication from how some of the residents here feel came yesterday when the mayor and other local leaders were in and around Queens visiting with the residents, touring some of the damage. They're not happy. They feel that the city, local leaders let them down. They feel like there should have been more warning. Certainly they feel like these are areas the city should have known was prone to flooding and should have done more.

This area where I'm at, this is in Woodside Queens. We're kind of like in a back alley of -- surrounded by about two dozen homes. Burr it's kind of an interesting area because there's a ramp -- a ramp that goes down to get into this back alley, and you can see how water can really fill up here. There are only two drains maybe. So neighbors here, the residents here say they need better infrastructure. They need better drainage. That is all part of infrastructure. That is something that they want to address with the president. That is something they want to address with local leaders.

In this community of Queens, 13 people died because of the storm. Not in a coastal area. These are just residents, inner city areas with homes that were flooded in the basement. People drowning in the basement of their homes, all because likely of infrastructure. There just was nowhere for the water to go. There was no drainage that was occurring. The water was just building and building.

So this is something that they say they are going to address with the president. He's expected to be here this afternoon. As you said, New Jersey first, and then he's going to make his way over to Queens, and hopefully they will get their chance, the residents here, to meet face to face with the president and explain to them their concerns.

Obviously, a disaster area. They're going to get some money because of this. When you look around here, there's a ton of damage. People are cleaning out. Their homes are damaged. Lots of furniture damage. So they're going to need some money to try and help them as they rebuild here.

HILL: Right. And part of the concern for so many people, as you know so well, Shimon, is that in many of these areas, you know, a lot of things aren't covered unless you have flood insurance. Most people didn't have flood insurance if they didn't need to have it.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

HILL: You know, there are concerns about also the clock ticking on cleaning out those spaces as mold grows, as mildew sets in. So I'm sure all those things will be brought up.

We'll be looking for more as we wait for the president's arrival.

Shimon, thank you.

Also keeping a close eye on Louisiana. The lieutenant governor there vowing changes will be made after several nursing home residents died following their evacuation to a warehouse shelter ahead of Hurricane Ida. Now, we learned of those deaths as residents were evacuated from ten senior living facilities deemed to be unfit in New Orleans. Investigators say at least five residents at senior apartment complexes were found dead during post-storm wellness checks.

CNN correspondent Adrienne Broaddus is on the scene in New Orleans.

So, Adrienne, what more do we know about these -- these apartment complexes and what happened to the folks there?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, we do know, as you mentioned, that the city of New Orleans evacuated those ten senior apartment complexes due to poor conditions. We heard from the city's mayor yesterday, and I want to read to you what she said. Her words, quote, what we found was unacceptable and accountability will be across the board. But right now we will remain focused on improving the conditions of the facilities we closed in order to bring our seniors back.

Keep in mind, these are complexes, not to be confused with nursing homes. So, in some cases, some of those seniors likely lived in individual units alone. And this is also not to be confused with that warehouse facility about 75 miles north of New Orleans. There, a department spokesperson with the Louisiana Department of Health said there were reports at that warehouse facility, people were left on mattresses on the floor.


They didn't have food, water, and the building smelled like feces.

The lieutenant governor says something must change.

Listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER (R-LA): We're learning about the incredible number, I think over 50 calls to 911, of (INAUDIBLE) relatives of those people, cries for help. And to pack that many people into one warehouse is just unthinkable. And how can this happen after we've gone through Katrina and had those deaths in the nursing homes then and set things in place so this would never happen again? It's just unthinkable. It's embarrassing.


BROADDUS: That's as real as it gets. The lieutenant governor trying to find words to comfort grieving families, knowing those deaths likely could have been prevented. And for those of you who are not familiar, in that area people were evacuated from at least seven different nursing homes. More than 800 people were in that warehouse. And the governor and lieutenant governor and other leaders are vowing that will never happen here again.

Meanwhile, there is a heat advisory in effect today. Temperatures could be well above 100 degrees with the heat index. And, still, some folks are without power. More than 400,000 outages.


HILL: Adrienne, such important reporting. Thank you.

Up next, new details on the legal strategies being used to fight the extremely restrictive Texas abortion law.

And we're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. The first day back, the first day of trading after the Labor Day holiday. Stock futures flat this morning, as you can see, amid lingering concerns about the delta variant and its drag on the economy. Shares of Boeing also lower after "Wall Street Journal" reported deliveries for the 787 Dreamliner would likely be further delayed.



HILL: This morning, abortion rights supporters in Texas are scrambling to help women seeking the procedure. This after the Supreme Court declined to block the state's new law that bans abortion as early as six weeks with no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape. Abortion rights activists are calling on the Biden administration to think creatively in order to stop the law as soon as possible.

CNN's Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue joining me now.

So, Ariane, I know you have some new reporting this morning on the steps that some of these abortion rights supporters in Texas are now taking. What are they doing?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right. You're absolutely right. The clinics here are scrambling after the Supreme Court effectively allowed this law to go into effect that lets almost anyone bring a lawsuit against somebody who might assist in an abortion. And basically they have a three-part strategy, on the ground, in court, and pressuring the government. But most of all, they're hoping that lawyers on all sides of this think creatively.

First of all, on the ground, they're concerned about women without means, women who might not be able to afford to cross state lines to get this procedure. So funders are working on not only providing finances, but transportation, emotional help, child care to help these women.

In court, it's more complicated, right, because they are desperate to get back into court now that this law has been allowed to go into effect. But it's a catch 22 because since the procedure is not being carried out, it's hard to trigger a lawsuit that would lead a judge to block the law now that the judge has seen the ramifications. So instead they're looking at more of a piecemeal approach, and that is trying to get temporary restraining orders one by one against these so-called vigilantes. Again, that's slower, but they hope that those would accumulate and then basically would end up at the Texas Supreme Court.

But then, also, they are pressuring the government and they've been in constant contact with both the White House and the DOJ, these groups, and they're basically saying, what else can we do to move the heft of the government's power to help out here? And they floated some ideas. Some that sort of need more working out. For instance, maybe they could have the abortion completed in a federal facility if it's privately funded, or maybe the government could do more here to help transport these women. And Larry Tribe, who's a Harvard law professor, he floated the idea of using a federal law that was basically drawn up to defend against the Ku Klux Klan here about intimidation. So lots of ideas. And already we're seeing the government respond to some extent.

HILL: Part of that response, I guess, is what we saw from Attorney General Merrick Garland, who says he'll protect abortion clinics in Texas by enforcing a federal law which prohibits making threats against patients who are seeking reproductive health services.

What more do we know about that effort?

DE VOGUE: Right. It was interesting because he announced that yesterday when there was a holiday. Most people weren't working, but he wanted to show how he's trying to be aggressive. And, basically, this is a 1994 law, and it's aimed at people who might intimidate others outside reproductive clinics.


So, again, it's not an opportunity to block the law, but maybe intimidate or cause people who might try to harass people who might be assisting with the procedure from thinking