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Interview With State Rep. Jason Nemes (R-KY); Multiple Senior Deaths in New Orleans; President Biden Tours Storm Damage; Biden to Lay Out New COVID Strategy. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 07, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: This Thursday, he will lay out a six- pronged strategy on how the U.S. will fight the Delta variant and vaccine resistance.

The U.S. has now surpassed 40 million cases, with four million of those infections happening in just the last month. And experts say the case number is likely much higher.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House.

So, Arlette, there's this new poll that suggests Americans may not be as receptive as they once were to hearing from President Biden about this. So tell us what the findings are.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, President Biden is hoping to offer a clearer picture of the next phase of this coronavirus response by giving that address later in the week.

But that polling that you referenced shows that some Americans feel that the president is not clearly communicating how he plans to respond to that virus. That recent poll has found that 42 percent of Americans do not agree with the idea that the president has clearly communicated his plans.

Also, when you take a look at the numbers relating to the CDC, 41 percent do not think that the CDC has clearly communicated the plans for that response. This also comes as we have seen a little bit of confusing messaging from the Biden administration when it comes to the rollout of those booster shots.

They were slated to be rolled out by September 20. But, right now, official say it may only be the Pfizer booster that is available and not the Moderna one as. That approval process may take a few weeks longer.

But when the president speaks here at the White House on Thursday, he is trying to show that they are trying to tackle this spreading Delta variant, especially as more children are returning to schools, people are returning to the workplaces, and the president is expected to lay out some further ideas and proposals when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus in schools, also the work that private -- the private sector can take, and also potentially more requirements that the federal government can impose.

We already know that the federal government has mandated vaccines for all of its employees, but it's unclear how much more they can do when it comes to vaccine mandates on a broader scale.

But this White House is really acting with a real sense of urgency, as they are trying to contain the spread of the Delta variant, get more Americans vaccinated, and also as there are concerns about the threat of future variants potentially emerging.

So, on Thursday, the president is trying to outline and show the American people that he has more of a response and a plan to this coronavirus as the country heads into the fall months.

CAMEROTA: Arlette, thank you very much.

So, as we speak, lawmakers in Kentucky are in a special session on the surge of COVID cases overwhelming that state. Moments ago, the governor of the state, Andy Beshear, formally requested an extension of the state of emergency there.

Kentucky is seeing more cases and hospitalizations than ever before in the pandemic, with a 13 percent positivity rate for the state.

CNN senior national correspondent Miguel Marquez is in Kentucky for us.

So, Miguel, what is it like for front-line workers there?


Look, they thought they were through the worst of this. The vaccine came along. The numbers went down. The case numbers went down in the early summer. And now they have shot up enormously. The cases are up higher than they have ever been.

Hospitalizations -- that trend line in hospitalizations, the seven-day average, is almost vertical. Deaths are starting to rise as well. We're at St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead. This is about an hour outside of Lexington.

And they're at 130 percent capacity right now. The staff likens it to a 3-D puzzle everyday just to figure out how they're going to get care to all of the patients. This is in addition -- this hospital also has a federal strike team to help out, about 15 members there, and about a dozen members of the National Guard also helping out.

And they could use a lot more. They have a COVID unit that was a storage room just a couple of months ago that they have cleared everything out, and they have the beds, they have everything ready. They don't have the staff to staff it.

Here's what one nurse said her worst fear is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. CORY YODER, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE: I get really fearful when we need beds for folks who their diabetes is out of control, and they need a insulin drip, or they have regular community-acquired ammonia. We might not have a bed for them.

If we have -- if you come in and have a heart attack and you need to ICU bed, we probably won't have a bed for you.


MARQUEZ: Now, they will do everything in their power at this hospital, they say, to treat anybody who has a life-threatening situation on their hands, but they are up against it.

It's very, very frustrating. It's a lot of work, a lot of tears for staff here. And they're not through the worst of it. They believe that they have another few weeks of those cases climbing that will take you then into the fall, which will be schools, sports and wintertime, when people come inside.


That Delta variant is very transmissible. It is ripping through the state, and they're looking at many more bad days ahead, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Miguel Marquez, thank you for all of that.

Let's turn now to Dr. Mark Dougherty. He's an infectious disease specialist who leads a team of doctors at Baptist Health Lexington.

Doctor, thank you so much.

You just heard Miguel's report. This here are the ICU beds occupied by coronavirus patients in Kentucky. You can see that it is almost vertical. Correct me if I'm wrong, but, as I understand it, just on Fourth of July, at your hospital, you had, I think, three COVID patients, OK? So that was two months ago. Today, what's the situation?


We had three and none in the ICU. And, today, we have over 110. So it has gone up like a rocket. And our ICUs are filling up. We have COVID floors that are basically quasi-ICUs. We have patients where, anywhere else, any other time, would actually be in the ICU, instead of out on the floor.

So far, we haven't had to put patients on ventilators out on the floor. But we got -- almost got to that point last week. We have had to use our recovery room as an ICU. We have just seen the numbers really shoot through the roof.

CAMEROTA: Are you getting assistance from the National Guard and the FEMA task force or strike force, as Miguel just described?

DOUGHERTY: We have requested assistance from the National Guard. It is supposed to be coming. It's not here as of yet. We know that the -- there's a FEMA task force that's here transporting

patients from hospital to hospital that has to be transported from smaller hospitals to tertiary care centers, like ours is.

One of the things we're really concerned about is not being able to service other patients, other than the COVID patients. We serve a large referral area all across the eastern half of the state with patients who are ill from things other than COVID. And, right now, we really can almost -- we can hardly take anyone in transfer because we're so busy taking care of the COVID patients.

CAMEROTA: And what could the National Guard do for you in your hospital?

DOUGHERTY: We think they could do things like helping with the patients in the ICUs, manually prone them. So that's one of the ways that we're trying to save people who are on the ventilator, is flip them over on their abdomen, and sometimes that really helps their lungs and helps improve their oxygen level.

That's very time-consuming and difficult. And it has to be done the right way to be done safely, but requires a number of people going in, in garb to manually flip them over on their abdomen and then come back in an hour or two later and flip them back the other way.

So there's labor-intensive things that we need help with just like that, transporting patients, taking them to get C.T. scans and MRI scans. We just don't have enough personnel, period. We have had -- a lot of our health care workers have gone to other states to help as travel nurses.

And we're very short on staff. The staff that's been here is completely exhausted. We went through this back in December and in January. We didn't get hit as hard as New York. We were able to learn a lot of things. We saw what happened New York and in other places that got hit really hard at that time.

We learned a lot from observation and what happened in the other places. And, fortunately, because of that situation, because we were pushed to our limits, but not over the limit, our mortality rate here during that part of the pandemic was probably half of what other places were.

We're currently able to provide adequate care at the present to the COVID patients, but we're really being pushed to the brink. We're running short of high-flow oxygen machines. We had to order more. We're running short of the medication tocilizumab, the powerful anti- inflammatory medicine that we're using to save lives of people who are really critically ill.

And that's true in other parts of the country also, but we really need help from everyone. We need help from the federal government and the state government in terms of giving, for instance, Regeneron therapy. That's the monoclonal antibody that Trump received that is used to prevent people from becoming critically ill and keep people out of the hospital. We had an area that we were administering that in. We had to shut that

down because we, frankly, needed the beds and the nursing staff. We couldn't give medications to prevent illness because we're so busy treating acute illness.

We need help in setting that up again so we can prevent so many people from coming into the hospital.

CAMEROTA: Doctor, what you have described is just incredible to think on how many different levels you could use help and what you have had to resort to.


As we speak, your state legislature is meeting in an emergency session to try to deal with this COVID surge. What do you want them to do? What do you want them to come out of this emergency session with?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I have talked to some of the state legislators and the people in the state Health Department about setting up Regeneron clinics across the state.

We're doing everything we can in the acute care hospitals to save patients and deliver high-quality care. We can't function doing the outpatient work with giving the Regeneron therapy. So that's one thing that I have really pushed for that I think is an area that we could really improve in.

We also need help in hiring additional staff. We need help from other staff and other states that aren't being hit as hard. Our health care workers have gone to help out in multiple states, in California and Florida and in New York. Now we need some additional help. And we need additional funding, hopefully from the federal government and the state, to help out with that.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Mark Dougherty, we hear you, and we will watch very closely what comes out of this special session. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

DOUGHERTY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, President Biden right now is touring flood damage in New Jersey and warning that, if we do not act immediately on climate change, this extreme weather, these fierce storms will continue and get worse.

And Louisiana's lieutenant governor vowing changes will be made after seven nursing home residents die in the aftermath of Ida. So we have new details on the 911 calls made during the chaos.



CAMEROTA: President Biden is now on his way to Queens, New York, to tour storm damage after seeing some of the devastation in New Jersey in the past hour.

He just approved federal disaster relief for 11 counties in New Jersey and New York. The president is also using his trip to highlight the effects of climate change and to promote what he calls his climate- resilient infrastructure plan.

CNN's M.J. Lee is in Queens.

So, M.J., what will the president focus on there?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, we are standing just a few blocks from where President Biden will be touring the damage here in Queens, New York, and speaking after that.

If you look behind me at the street and you walk down the street, you really just see the signs of devastation everywhere. In front of so many houses, you see huge piles of trash, you see furniture, you see molded carpet that's been taken out, you see wet clothing that is still hanging out to dry.

And you hear a lot of construction noise. I don't know if you can hear that right now, clearly, a lot of people just trying to fix their homes and their basements that have been completely ruined by the water.

And when we spoke with some of the residents that live here, they said that what they saw a few nights ago really felt like they were scenes from a movie, that the water rushed in so fast into their basements and that, even though they were getting some of those warnings about the flash floods on their phones, there was not enough time to get the things out that they would have wanted to, and that by the time that they knew that the flooding was happening, but it was just all too late.

As you said, Biden has just finished touring the damage in New Jersey. And, there, he spoke about the importance of dealing with climate change. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every part of the country is getting hit by extreme weather. And we're now living in real time what the country's going to look like. And if we don't do something -- we can't turn it back very much, but we can prevent it from getting worse.


LEE: Now, some of the folks we spoke with say that they certainly appreciate that the president is coming to their area.

But just a sign of how devastated these people are, one woman we spoke with whose basement was entirely wrecked, she said, look, there's nothing that the president can say today to make her feel better, because she just doesn't know how her house is going to be fixed and how much that is going to cost in the end -- Alisyn. CAMEROTA: Yes, understood. They are in desperate times and desperate


M.J., thank you.

Now to Louisiana, where investigators say at least five people were found dead in senior living complexes during post-storm wellness checks across New Orleans.

This is in addition to that heartbreaking scene out of Independence, Louisiana, where at least seven nursing home residents died after they were evacuated to an overcrowded warehouse.

CNN's Martin Savidge is -- has been live for us in New Orleans.

So, Martin, you're outside of the Flint Goodridge Apartments, where two seniors were found dead. So what happened?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the city of New Orleans has apartment buildings, a number of them, that they know are pretty much filled with people who are elderly.

So, about five days after the storm, and not hearing so much from the management of those apartment buildings, the Department of Health decided, we need to get eyes on and investigate. So strike teams went building to building, they went floor to floor, and they went door to door.

And what they found were horrific conditions. In many cases, they saw senior citizens who were suffering in the extreme heat, well over 100 degrees. They had no electricity. Oxygen machines had failed. They were trapped on their floors because the elevators didn't work and they couldn't call anybody because their cell phones had died.


It was literally a kind of living hell. And at least five seniors died. So, that's the circumstance for apartment buildings here in the city of New Orleans. And even though managers may say they didn't have a legal obligation to evacuate, government leaders say they had a moral obligation to look out their citizens -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Martin, CNN just obtained some more details about the panicked 911 calls that were made when those Independence nursing home residents were evacuated. So what do those reveal?

SAVIDGE: Yes, so this is a different circumstance.

There were about 800 to 850 people from nursing homes that were evacuated to a warehouse about an hour north of New Orleans before the storm. Very quickly, things began to deteriorate. Let's face it. A warehouse is not a nursing home. You have got all these elderly people that are packed in there.

And so what they began to find was that there were these emergency calls that were coming in tonight to 911 in the area. And we have got one of them here. The caller is advising that he is at a warehouse. He has a stroke patient, and he's lying on the floor and he's being treated poorly.

Well, it wasn't they were being treated just poorly. There was a lack of staff. There was no sanitation whatsoever, no separation for COVID- 19. And, in fact, there were patients that were dying, at least seven.

The lieutenant governor is outraged. Here's what he had to say.


LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER (R-LA): I think over 50 calls to 911 of the alarming, 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 have 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.


SAVIDGE: In the case of the warehouses there, the government here is saying that they're likely to investigate and maybe press charges.

As to what happened here in New Orleans, they're saying laws may have to change. It just shows you how seniors suffered and died not in the store, but afterwards. It could have been avoided -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Martin Savidge, thank you.

So, we are just one week away from the California recall election, and President Biden is now jumping in to help Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom hold on to his position.



CAMEROTA: OK, back to Kentucky now, where, moments ago, Governor Andy Beshear formally requested an extension of the state of emergency there to deal with COVID.

He also-called a special session of the state legislature today hoping to get the legislature to pass a mask mandate in all schools.

Kentucky is seeing more cases and hospitalizations than ever before in the pandemic, with a 13 percent positivity rate statewide.

So, joining us now on the phone is Republican state Representative Jason Nemes.

And, Representative Nemes, thank you so much. I know you have just popped out from the floor of the legislature on a recess. And so we really appreciate you giving us a status report.

So what emergency measures do you think will come out of today's special session?

STATE REP. JASON NEMES (R-KY): So, we have extended the emergency that the governor requested. And we did that for a number of reasons.

We have to protect our people and understand that this virus is very serious. It's very real. We will be placing restrictions, or we have placed restrictions on the governor. We think, last year, he went a little too far in shutting down the economy and things like that.

But we're trying to try to give flexibility for schools, which, obviously, the other variant has hit our schools, as they have across the country. We're trying to give our schools flexibility. That's the main thing we're doing. But we're also doing other things, like providing extra funding for hospitals, so they can meet the need and things of that nature.


And I do want to ask you about that, because we just talked to a doctor at one of the hospitals in Lexington. But, first, how about mask mandates? Would you -- are you considering a mask mandate for all schools, public and private?

NEMES: So, the Kentucky Department of Education, which oversees the schools statewide, has a mask mandate. We will recall that mask mandate and we will let it -- leave it to the local elected school boards.

Our thought process there is, it may -- very well may be a necessity for any particular response, whether it's a mask mandate or anything else, in a particular school or particular district, but having the broad-based rule for the entire state, we don't think is called for.

So, local school districts, which are accountable and elected to the people in each individual county, will retain that ability. But the statewide mask mandate will be removed.

CAMEROTA: So, in other words, you are reversing what the Board of Education in Kentucky just called for in terms of a mask mandate?

NEMES: Yes, statewide, Department of Education, we're going to reverse that and let the local board -- local school boards put that on there.

It sounds bad, the way you just said it. But I would note that, when Governor Beshear took office, he did away with the former board and put all his own appointees on there. So we don't think that's a board that is -- that's a neutral board. And we're going to go to the boards at the local level who know what their individual communities need, and they're accountable to the people, the elections.

CAMEROTA: Look, I hear what you're saying, that it may not be a one- size-fits-all.

But while your case numbers are so high, and hospitalizations are so high, and your positivity rate is so high, why not just have a mask mandate in schools for, I don't know, come up with a time frame, the next two weeks, something like that?

NEMES: Well, and individual school districts can do that.