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Children Hit by COVID; Biden's COVID-19 Speech on Thursday; Dr. Carlos del Rio is Interviewed about COVID Numbers; Louisiana Revokes Nursing Home Licenses; Joe Valiente is Interviewed about Nursing Home Deaths; Democrats Divided over Economic Package. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 08, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You buried the lead there, 64 years. That's genius.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I know. That is such a sweet story, though, just the tale of the good Samaritan. They made such a difference.

CNN's coverage continues right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

With the school year in full swing in many parts of the country now, cases and hospitalizations among children are up. It is important to note, though, that severe disease among children remains very uncommon. We're going to break that down in greater detail with our doctors in just a few moments.

Here are the latest numbers. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children now account for more than one in four of all weekly new coronavirus infections, with over 250,000 new infections in the last week alone. Child hospitalizations, they're also at an all-time high. But to be clear, less than 2 percent of all pediatric COVID-19 cases result in hospitalization, far below with older people.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says the uptick in cases is still avoidable.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE of ALLERY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If we do things right, we hope that we don't see much increase at all. If we want to protect the children, particularly those who are not yet eligible for vaccination, you want to surround the children with people who are vaccinated, teachers, school personnel, everyone else.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Some schools in the south have been particularly hit hard since reopening. One district in central Georgia has temporarily moved to virtual learning after three transportation staff members died in recent weeks.

In Florida, 13 employees from Miami-Dade Public Schools have died from COVID since mid-August. We should note, all of them unvaccinated. That statistic remains consistent.

Amid alarming levels of hospitalizations and deaths around the country, many people are looking to the White House for new answers. Tomorrow, the president is expected to lay out an aggressive, new plan to stop the spread of the delta variant and, at the same time, boost vaccinations, which is so central to stopping the spread.

Let's begin with CNN's Elizabeth Cohen.

So, Elizabeth, this data shows the variant is hitting children harder than before. Tell us what the numbers show.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, let's take a look at these numbers. What they really -- what sort of underlies all of them is something that Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. She's the head of the CDC. And she said a number of weeks ago to Congress, children are not supposed to die. And hundreds of children have died of COVID since the beginning of this pandemic. And the number of cases is getting worse.

Let's take a look at the case numbers.

So, for the week of August 26th through September 2nd, there were more than 250,000 new cases among children up to about age 18. That's a 23 percent in just -- increase in just one week. That is the highest weekly increase ever.

Now, I want to answer a question that I know is on many people's minds, which is, what is the big deal if a child gets COVID? My children get -- have gotten viruses, you know, many times over the years. They're home for a couple days, they recover, no big deal.

Here's the problem. For a certain percentage -- and it's a very small percentage -- but for a certain percentage, it is a big deal. Children end up in the hospital with COVID. Some children sadly die of COVID. So if we can keep the case numbers down, we keep the hospitalization numbers and the death numbers down.

Unfortunately, that is not what has happened. Jim, as you just mentioned, there have been, you know, obviously we know terrible problems with lack of vaccination in the U.S. We're not protecting our children who, under the age of 12, aren't allowed to be vaccinated. And here's the results. The same week, August 26th through September 2nd, 858 new hospitalizations. And it's important to note, that's just in 24 states. The American Academy of Pediatrics numbers only looked at 24 states. That's a 12 percent increase in one week. And, again, that number is just for half the country.

So this really belies the importance of getting vaccinated, as Dr. Fauci said, to protect children who cannot be vaccinated.


SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

President Biden is set to receive a briefing from members of the White House COVID-19 response team today. This ahead of his address tomorrow.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House with more.

Arlette, I know you're getting some details on what the president plans to announce. What are the new -- I mean, there's no silver bullet, but what are the new plans to try to address the surge?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Biden, tomorrow, is expected to outline the next phase of his COVID-19 response as they are trying to curb the spread of the delta variant. And we are learning that the president is expected to make new announcements when it comes to mandates of testing.

Many of the final details of this plan are still being finalized, but it's expected that there will be a particular emphasis when it comes to schools and also those private sector workplaces as you have more and more children returning to the classrooms this week and also businesses opening up, having workers return back, and also an influx when it comes to people visiting those private businesses.


But officials have said that they don't believe that there is room for a more broad federal mandate. So much of the efforts that the administration is hoping is that the private sector will be able to step up and try to encourage some of these vaccinations.

Now, the president will be meeting with his team a bit later today to receive the latest update on this plan as well as COVID-19. But officials have long said that they are constantly adapting their strategy to the state of the virus. And this speech from the president, the plan coming from the president tomorrow, is expected to offer a bit of a clearer picture about the way forward with the pandemic.


SCIUTTO: No question. And that testing key because they want to get a better handle exactly on where and how the delta variant is spreading.

Arlette Saenz, at the White house, thanks very much.

All right, there are a lot of big questions today. We're always looking for context in the numbers because there are so many numbers we throw your way.

Dr. Carlos del Rio joins us now. He serves as the executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine at Grady Health System in Atlanta.

Doctor, great to have you on.

Not good to see, more infections among children. Somewhat expected, right, because children are going back to school. Sadly, many of them without steps like masking, so it makes it easier to spread.

On the flip side, we should note, that it's still below 2 percent of pediatric cases of COVID-19 that result in hospitalization. For folks at home, parents in particular trying to digest this, tell us how they should look at this new data.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY: You know, Jim, it's really complicated to try to put this in your mind because, you're right, the great majority of children that will get infected with COVID are going to do fine. But if you happen to be the parents of one of those 2 percent of children and one of your kids get very ill, then you really -- it's 100 percent for you, right? So the risk is -- it's a little bit like playing Russian roulette, you never know where the danger is going to be.

And the reality is that the best thing you can do is prevent -- is try to avoid your kid from getting infected. And the way you do that, as Dr. Fauci had said, is vaccinating everybody around that kid, you know, 12 and older, everybody needs to be vaccinated, and having them wear masks in school.


DEL RIO: If we did that, we could really decrease significantly the risk of that kid getting hospitalized.

SCIUTTO: OK. Sad fact is that's not happening in many places. It's just not, right?

DEL RIO: It really --

SCIUTTO: The politics of it just really you have -- you have governors in Florida, Texas that are banning mask mandates. You have a whole host of disinformation about vaccination that's leading people not to get vaccinated, adults, even when kids are at risk here.

In terms of context for how we compare this risk to children from the risk of other things, such as seasonal flu or RSV, based on the latest data, particularly as delta has been surging, how does it compare?

DEL RIO: Well, you know, normally we see about 40,000 hospitalizations from flu and about 50,000 to 60,000 hospitalizations from respiratory (INAUDIBLE) virus among children every year.

Currently, we've seen about, you know, about 40,000 hospitalizations in kids from COVID during the similar time period. So it seems to be pretty similar. The difference is the severity of the disease. Most kids hospitalized with influenza, RSV, tend to do fairly well. With COVID we're having many kids -- many more kids in the ICU, including getting into extra (INAUDIBLE), which is simply something we rarely have in (INAUDIBLE) pediatrics.


DEL RIO: So the severity of the disease seems to be more severe particularly with delta.

SCIUTTO: Understood. OK.

Parents have sent their kids back to school. Many have. As they look at this, right, I mean and we always want to try to frame this as, I suppose, not risk elimination, right, because that's impossible, but risk mitigation and management and so on. But based on what you're seeing, should parents look at this and say -- and change their decisions about sending kids back to school?

DEL RIO: You know, Jim, I'm very much in favor of in-person education. I think kids benefit from being in school.

SCIUTTO: For sure.

DEL RIO: And I think we can do it safely. But we need to get the parents and the school boards to work together. And we need to put the, you know, the children at the center of our decisions.

I work in health care. And when we're in health care and having debates, I always tell people, let's do what's best for the patient.


DEL RIO: Let's put the patient at the center of our decisions.

I think in schools we should follow the same rule. We should say, let's put the kids at the center of the decision, not the politics, not the partisanship, but the children.

SCIUTTO: No question.

And, finally, before we go, at the overall data beyond just children, there does seem to be a tailing off of the latest surge. And I know these things can change, but, you know, the graph was like this and now it's starting to go this way.

Do you see some hope, in talking about infections, but also deaths and hospitalizations, do you see some hope in that data?

DEL RIO: I am seeing some hope in that data, but we're still having very, very high positivity rates among people getting tested.


For example, here in Georgia, where it's 17 percent, we're still seeing a lot of people hospitalized.


DEL RIO: The hospitals are full. So we -- we are nowhere close to the end of this. We may be, right now, you know, think about a hurricane, we may be at the eye of the hurricane, but still the other side of the storm is still going to hit us and I think we need to still have a lot -- we have two -- two to four very, very hard weeks ahead of us.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and that makes the White House decision on increased testing to be announced tomorrow particularly relevant. What will that reveal?

Dr. Carlos del Rio, thanks so much for helping us dive through numbers that are -- that are difficult for all of us, I think, to digest.

DEL RIO: Have a good day.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, seven Louisiana nursing homes lose their licenses after residents died after being evacuated to a packed warehouse during Hurricane Ida. Now we're hearing the heartbreaking 911 calls from that warehouse and their family are speaking out.

Plus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set to speak this hour as Democrats threaten to sink President Biden's agenda. Is there a path forward?

And the man believed to be the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks is in court today. Details on what is next for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.



SCIUTTO: The Louisiana Department of Health is now revoking the license of seven nursing homes after seven residents died when they were evacuated to a warehouse in Independence, Louisiana, during Hurricane Ida.

CNN's Martin Savidge is in New Orleans.

Martin, so these seven nursing homes, they're all owned by one person. CNN has obtained the 911 calls, the logs of them, 60 of them, describing just deplorable conditions inside that warehouse.

Tell us -- tell us what you've learned down there.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they really were horrific conditions.

It was about 800 to 850 residents from nursing homes, including here in New Orleans, that were transported about an hour north up to Independence. And things went bad very, very quickly. And we now know that seven people died and at least a dozen or more have been hospitalized.

Family members who knew nothing about it at the time are shocked and outraged.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just feel guilty. I mean (INAUDIBLE) alone. I would have done what I did but bring her with me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why didn't you contact anybody for help? Let somebody know what was going on. Contact one person. That -- people shouldn't be treated like that. You should be held accountable.


SAVIDGE: What we do know is actually there were a number of 911 calls, about 63 of them that CNN has learned. We don't have the actual calls, but we've got the read outs. And here's just a sampling of some of what was said. One caller requesting emergency transport for a diabetic patient who had not eaten due to them having no more supplies.

Another dispatcher took a call from 66-year-old Debbie Strickland who thought that she'd been kidnapped. She later told CNN that the staff refused to let her use her wheelchair, claiming that they wouldn't help me get out of bed or nothing.

And then another caller said that he was at a warehouse and that he's a stroke patient and he's lying on the floor. He's being treated poorly.

There were other callers that talked about people having trouble breathing. And then there was at least one call that reported the person had stopped breathing.

We know that on Tuesday, after the storm, the health department sent an investigator to that warehouse to figure out what was going on. He was thrown off the property. Two days later, the health department was back, this time with a legal authority and the means to begin evacuating hundreds of those residents.

But, still, many people are now shocked. How could you possibly think that a warehouse would work as a nursing facility.


SAVIDGE: Thankfully, those that had been evacuated are in real nursing facilities now, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Martin, were some of those 911 calls from the patients themselves who passed away later?

SAVIDGE: Yes, it's hard to tell by looking at the logs, but it does appear that, yes, in fact, some of them are coming from patients. We don't know if they are patients who later died.


SAVIDGE: But we also know that some of them sound like they came from staff. That's why there's an investigation and there may even be a criminal investigation of this, the state indicates, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Goodness.

Martin Savidge, thanks so much for following that.

Well, joining me now is Joe Valiente, he's the emergency management director for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

Great to have you on this morning, Joe. And I know you had a lot of hard work to do these last several days in advance of this hurricane and in the aftermath.

I guess the question I have is that a lot of planning was done prior to Ida, based on lessons learned from Katrina. There were benefits from that. I mean even things like rebuilding the levees and so on, but pre-positioning supplies and emergency crews. This one seems to be a miss take of bad planning, doesn't it, right, to use a warehouse for at-risk patients from a nursing home, and is that your view?

JOE VALIENTE, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIRECTOR OF JEFFERSON PARISH, LA: Well, no, my view is an extremely poor decision making on the part of the owner with the lessons that we learned from Katrina, and from Harvey, from Houston afterwards, is that these nursing homes were not properly staffed and they were not evacuated in time.

So what the state of Louisiana did was that we had --for instance, in Jefferson parish, we have 13 nursing homes here. Each year we, emergency management, we review their contracts. We ensure that they have generators that can run life sustaining equipment and HVAC, air conditioning. We also insure that they have a transportation -- emergency transportation contract in place. So if they have to evacuate, they're supposed to evacuate to a facility that is suitable for elderly individuals or special needs individuals.


The photographs we saw of this warehouse were, to be quite honest, were disgusting and the conditions were squalid at best.

SCIUTTO: There were complaints in the past. In 2018, the local CBS affiliate in New Orleans, they looked into some of this and one key question was a lack of generators, right, you know, which would have provided power for those nursing homes, perhaps prevented the need for evacuation. Have you -- have you had dealings with the owner? I mean were warnings missed here, ignored?

VALIENTE: Well, I'm not 100 percent sure. We don't know at this time. It's too early in the investigation why the evacuation occurred. We actually repaired one of the generators to those -- one of those nursing homes. So as far as I know, the generators were up and running.

I think at some point they may have run out of fuel and they didn't have any additional fuel and that -- that might have sparked their decision to evacuate.

But, at the end of the day, this owner did not have a good location to bring all these special needs people. I mean, it's just -- it was just horrible. SCIUTTO: Where does power stand there now, in terms of restoring

power, because so many customers still lacking it. And I wonder, with all this debate about infrastructure, right, are there long-term fixes you think are necessary to prevent this from happening again?

VALIENTE: Well, it is sort of complicated. They lost over 30,000 poles, energy. And then, on top of that, we had over 933 trees -- I'm talking about large trees, five, six feet in diameter that fell, and a great portion of those trees that fell, fell on to power lines, became entangled, pulled down other poles. So it's a complicated issue to try to mitigate.

Clearly, we're going to have to look at individuals who have trees in their front lawns, especially on parish right of ways where we're going to have to rethink this. And those trees are going to have to be removed. I'm not saying that they will, but I'm already -- I'm already aware that that discussion is occurring. And so that's one way we could cut down on the number of transmission lines that are damaged during a storm.

But you have to remember, we had -- we clocked winds up to 147 miles an hour for three hours. If you look back at Hurricane Michael with Mexico Beach, you saw the level of devastation that occurred there, which is -- it goes through an area, flattens it out, much like a tornado does.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Exactly. I mean those are tornado-strength winds in the midst of a hurricane.

VALIENTE: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Joe Valiente, thanks so much. We know you've got a lot of work to do in these coming days to get things back. So we appreciate you taking the time.

VALIENTE: Yes, sir. Thank you for having us.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, Democratic negotiations once again at a standstill. Senator Joe Manchin, bucking the party, attempting to slash President Biden's economic spending proposal by about two- thirds. Where does that leave these negotiations?

And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures overall relatively flat this morning but down slightly, pointing towards another potentially down day for the S&P 500. The Dow fell more than 200 points before yesterday's close. Investors concerned about spiking coronavirus cases and the latest jobs report, which you'll remember came in way below expectations.

We are keeping a close eye on all of it. Please stay with us.



SCIUTTO: Right now, Democratic lawmakers are, this may sound familiar, still struggling to come to an agreement over President Biden's economic package. Senator Joe Manchin is now signaling to his colleagues he is only willing to support $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion in spending. That is just about a third of the original Democratic proposal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected Manchin's call for a strategic pause on moving forward, saying that that might sink the infrastructure bill if reconciliation, the process for the larger budget, fails in the Senate.

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill.

So, Lauren, we should note, Manchin is not the only one who's expressed reservations about that top line figure. I guess my question is, is this part of a negotiation which always happens with these bills, or is it a more -- potentially a more severe threat to coming to final agreement?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Jim, I think this is about leverage. And we're going to know more when the Senate returns next week. But in a 50/50 Senate, any one member -- and it has repeatedly been Senator Joe Manchin -- has a lot of sway over this process.

Like you said, he had called for this strategic pause last week. He also now is telling lawmakers privately, his colleagues, that he would support a proposal around that $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion number. But he's also flexible. He wants to ensure that there are pay-fors. But, like you said, he is not the only Democrat with concerns.

And this isn't the only issue. The top line number, how much you spend on this package, that's just one problem that Democrats are going to have to work through in the days and weeks ahead. Another big sticking point is over how to pay for this package. There's going to be a lot of disagreements among progressives and moderates about how high to raise taxes to try to raise revenue and fully pay for this package.


There's also going to be disagreements about what to include, how much are you going to expand the child tax credit.