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Hurricane Ida Recovery Efforts Continue; California Recall Fight; Concern Grows Over Upcoming Right-Wing Rally; Biden to Announce New COVID Strategy. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 08, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to NEWSROOM. Victor is off today.

Tomorrow, President Biden will unveil his plan for a way out of the COVID pandemic. It's a vision that administration officials acknowledge has been complicated by the Delta variant.

At this point, more than half the country is fully vaccinated, but cases are still surging, mostly among the unvaccinated. Hospitals are still struggling with mostly unvaccinated patients. And masks are still a fight in some places.

And now children are getting sicker. The Academy -- the American Academy of Pediatrics says 26 percent -- that's more than one in four -- COVID infections right now are in kids. Thankfully, severe illness in kids remains uncommon.

The president is set to receive a coronavirus briefing this hour. And we're told he's still working on the specifics of tomorrow's speech, but officials say expect him to make announcements on mandates and testing, with an emphasis on schools and businesses.

CNN's Nick Watt has the latest on COVID, including new data that shows who among the vaccinated is getting hospitalized.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Misinformation, fearmongering swirl around breakthrough infections, the vaccinated who still catch COVID.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: The science shows the vaccine will not necessarily protect you. It's not protecting many people.

WATT: So not true. Here's a box fresh fact. Those very rare breakthrough cases who suffer severe symptoms tend to be older, 73, on average, and have multiple other conditions, like diabetes or heart disease, according to the CDC.

And unvaccinated adults are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized than the fully vaccinated. DR. EDITH BRACHO-SANCHEZ, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY IRVING MEDICAL CENTER:

I think we also need to have perspective and realize that the people who are hospitalized, the people who are suffering severe outcomes are the unvaccinated.

WATT: In Miami-Dade Florida, 13 unvaccinated public school staff have now died.

ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA, PUBLIC SCHOOLS: This represents, quite frankly, the danger of disinformation and misinformation, which is so common these days.

WATT: More than 60 percent of Americans have now had at least one vaccine shot. Americans are lucky, plenty to go around. Take, say, Sudan. Less than 1.5 percent have had a shot.

DR. MARIA VAN KERKHOVE, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: One thing I would ask right now is if we could have all global leaders come together with a common goal. We do not have that.

WATT: Remember, a variant can pop up anywhere and impact us all.

Now, here in the U.S., the average daily death toll keeps climbing. But average new cases dropped 4 percent since last week. It's regional, as always. Kentucky just had its worst week ever, more than 30,000 new infections.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): We have called in FEMA strike teams, the National Guard. We have deployed nursing students all over the state. We could have prevented this by simply everybody going in and getting that vaccine.

WATT: And, as the new school year ramps up across the country, more than a quarter of all new COVID-19 cases are now in kids.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: We relaxed restrictions, and this virus is really going for the people who are not vaccinated. And among those people are children who don't qualify for the vaccine.

WATT: Positive note, less than 2 percent of pediatric cases end up in the hospital, but there are now nearly 100,000 COVID patients of all ages in the hospital, right now, fighting for their lives.


WATT: And, finally, some good news from Macy's. They say that their Thanksgiving parade will be back this year almost as it was pre- pandemic. There will be members of the public spectating from the street, exact details of that TBC. There will be fewer participants and the vast majority of them are going to have to be vaccinated and masked -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, thank you for that update, Nick Watt.

Let's bring in Dr. Megan Ranney. She's an professor of emergency medicine and associate dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.

Dr. Ranney, great to see you.

So you have this new op-ed on that I read with great interest in which you basically issue a wakeup call to all of us. And you say the world is never going back to a pre-COVID normal. Why not?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: This pandemic will change our society forever.

The analogy I made in that op-ed is that it's like 9/11. We're facing the 20th anniversary in just a couple of days. Our world has changed permanently because of 9/11.


And COVID has changed us all as well. Moreover, COVID is never going to disappear. Anyone who says we're going to eradicate it or that it's vanquished, honestly, they're lying. COVID is going to be around forever. We have to learn how to deal with it, and we have to make it something that is no longer as dangerous as it has been.

And that's really the magic of the vaccines. They make it so that it is more like the flu or many of the other viruses that were exposed to every year. It's so important for us to get vaccinated, so that we can get to that point.

CAMEROTA: But, practically speaking, what does that mean for all of us? What level of hospitalizations do we need to live with? What level of daily deaths do we need to prepare ourselves for?

RANNEY: So, as an E.R. doc, I obviously want everyone to take all precautions that they can to stay healthy, to avoid preventable illness and death.

But the reality is that people are going to die at some point. People get old. People get sick. Just as when you wear a seat belt, you do it to increase your chance of surviving if you're unlucky enough to be in a car crash. Similarly, with COVID, we want to do everything we can to decrease the chance of hospitalization or death, but we're never going to reach that zero level.

What level is tolerable for us as a society, well, that is a bigger discussion. But anyone who thinks we're aiming for zero, that's just not achievable with a workable society.

CAMEROTA: A lot of people are frustrated -- I hear it all the time anecdotally -- about how the guidelines on masks and boosters keep changing.

They don't understand why Dr. Fauci can't get it right the first time and why scientists don't understand exactly what's happening. They don't quite understand that this is a novel coronavirus, and that we're learning as we go. And scientists are still figuring things out.

However, in your op-ed, you do basically say that scientists or at least the CDC could know a little bit more. Here's what you write: "The CDC is not consistently tracking the many so-called breakthrough infections that don't require hospitalization, so we are left guessing how well the vaccines protect from mild and asymptomatic infection. And we have no reliable data set on school transmission. This lack of data makes it difficult to provide airtight recommendations to the public as we embark on a new school year."

So can the CDC do a better job here?


You know, I wish I had a crystal ball. I wish all of us as scientists had a crystal ball to tell us exactly what's going to happen with COVID-19 over the next months and years. We don't. And that is why the science keeps changing.

But we can make good recommendations when we have good data. Instead, we're seeing little drips and drabs of data here and there that is not necessary. We're in the United States. We have a great public health infrastructure. We can get that data, centralize it, share it with scientists, and give better guidance to all of us who are sending our kids back to school, many of them unvaccinated, in the last week and this week.

I look forward to the CDC doing better.


CAMEROTA: Why aren't we doing that?

RANNEY: I think it's a combination of things.

You know, last spring, we all thought, the pandemic is mostly over, the worst of it is done, it's just going to be a disease of the unvaccinated. I think folks didn't foresee how bad the Delta variant was going to get, and that had us let down our guard a little bit.

I think that there's also some resistance to getting and sharing data. It's hard work to get good data, and it's expensive. We need to make that investment as a country.

CAMEROTA: So, in about half-an-hour, President Biden is being briefed by his COVID task force. And then, tomorrow, he's making this address.

What do you think his new approach should be? I mean, he's, apparently, we understand, going to try to present some path forward out of coronavirus. What do you want to hear from the president?

RANNEY: So, I want to hear a few things.

The first is a very clear prioritization of a national response to COVID from the federal government. This wonderful task force is part of his transition plan. Many of the people who came on to his administration have since stepped off, people like Andy Slavitt.

I would love to see there be creation of a COVID czar who really oversees this. I want to see an investment in data and data sharing, so that we can get these kinds of answers. I want an increased emphasis on communication.

And I want to see clarity about the things that we know work, clearly vaccines. But let's also be honest about the fact that masks, rapid testing, and ventilation are critical to keeping us all safe as this pandemic continues.

CAMEROTA: All right, Dr. Megan Ranney, we will see if the White House is listening. Thank you very much for laying out your wish list there for what we can expect from President Biden.


RANNEY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, meanwhile, there is disturbing online chatter, and it's prompting growing concerns on Capitol Hill, as law enforcement officials brace for the next right-wing rally.

And with less than a week until the California recall, the biggest Democrats in the country are flying in to support Governor Gavin Newsom.

His special election strategy -- next.


CAMEROTA: Law enforcement in D.C. are on high alert after an uptick in online chatter surrounding an upcoming right-wing rally scheduled for Capitol Hill.


The event is to support the insurrectionists who were charged in the deadly Capitol riots.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is following the story for us.

So, Melanie, what is law enforcement hearing?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, security concerns over the September 18 rally are ramping up. And law enforcement officials are bracing for the potential for violence and unrest.

A new internal Capitol Police memo reviewed by CNN warns that there's been a noticeable uptick in violent rhetoric surrounding this event and that there have been heated discussions online about the shooting death of rioter Ashli Babbitt.

The document goes on to note that many individuals now this event as a justice for Ashli Babbitt event, which could be a cause for concern, and that it is not unreasonable to plan for potential violent altercations.

Meanwhile, at least one Proud Boy leader has encouraged followers to attending this event, and counterprotests are also planned for that day.

Now, as far as attendance, 500 people so far have RSVPed. Yes, that doesn't always mean everyone will show up, however. And nine members of Congress were invited to attend this rally, though all but six of them declined those invites.

Those remaining three, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Madison Cawthorn, have not said either way whether they will attend. Should also note that the attorney for Ashli Babbitt was also invited to speak at this rally.

Now, this all comes as security preparations are fully under way. The Capitol Police plan to present their security plans to the Capitol Police Board as soon as this week. That could include returning the fencing around the Capitol Complex. And members of Congress are set to receive security briefings in the days ahead, including Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, and Kevin McCarthy.

They will have a briefing on Monday in Pelosi's office with the head of the Capitol Police.

Now, look, the good news is this event is taking place on a Saturday, when the House is in recess. So there will be far fewer people around that day. But the Capitol Hill community is still very on edge after a string of deadly incidents and bomb scares this year. So no one wants to leave anything to chance -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, understood. Everyone should keep an eye on September 18.

Melanie Zanona, thank you for the reporting.

All right, let's talk recall now. Vice President Kamala Harris is heading to California to show her support for the embattled governor there, Gavin Newsom. The Democrat has only days left to fight off the Republican-led effort to oust him before the recall election September 14.

President Biden is also expected to travel to California sometime next week.

CNN's Maeve Reston is there following the race for us.

So, Maeve, what do we expect to hear from Vice President Harris today?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a homecoming, Alisyn, for Vice President Harris. She is beloved in this state by progressives and, in particular, Democratic women.

And that is a group that Gavin Newsom has really been targeting in this lead-up to the election. His biggest issue is making sure that Democrats are aware of this election and that they actually turn in their ballot.

And so what he and Harris are going to try to do here at this rally is to really nationalize this race and make the argument that there are really serious stakes for this election, because of Larry Elder's position on Roe v. Wade, on the past comments that he's made about women, and really arguing that there's a lot of risk here for women and girls in particular.

Right now -- we just talked to the campaign manager here -- things are still looking really good for Democrats. Gavin Newsom said earlier this week that he felt that he has turned a corner. And we are seeing Democrats keep up that pace that they need in the ballots that are being returned.

There is a little bit of an uptick among Republicans, but not nearly the margin that they would need so far to pull off a recall here. Of course, what everyone is bracing for on the Democratic side is a big Republican turnout on Election Day.

So they are not declaring victory yet by any stretch, but they're watching for that, and right now they feel like things are looking pretty steady, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: There are still many days to go.

Maeve Reston, thank you for the update.

So, deplorable conditions endured by nursing home residents during Hurricane Ida. Now Louisiana is taking action. We have details on the investigation next.



CAMEROTA: The cleanup and recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Ida.

In Louisiana, electricity is slowly returning to some towns, though the storm took down more power lines than Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ike, Delta and Zeta combined. Nearly 70 percent of the state is back on the grid, but that still means that roughly 300,000 people are still in the dark.

And look at this satellite imagery. This captures an oil slick over the weekend in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard has been looking into reports of hundreds of post-hurricane oil spills off Louisiana's southeastern coast.

As you heard on our program on Monday, the Louisiana Department of Health has pulled licenses from seven nursing homes across Louisiana, this after workers evacuated hundreds of patients to a warehouse ahead of the hurricane, and several of those patients died.


The conditions inside the warehouse have been described as unsanitary, unsafe and unlivable.

CNN national security -- sorry -- national correspondent Ryan Young is following the investigation for us.

Ryan, what have you learned?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're talking about tough, tough conditions here.

Look, this is my first time to come back to the city since I was here last week. And from the sky, you really get a scope of just what's going on here. There's tarp after tarp all over the place. And I can tell you, last week, even we didn't have power when we were in this city. It was hard.

You wanted to almost pull your skin off, it was so very hot, but didn't think about the fact of being trapped in one of these nursing homes, where not only is it hot, but you can't get out of the bed. And that's what we're hearing from this investigation; 850 people were moved to a warehouse.

And I'm talking about the temperatures were almost above 100 in terms of what it felt like early on in the afternoon. And then you hear about the fact that they were running out of food and a lot of times weren't able to move throughout the facility.

You know these were torturous conditions. In fact, listen to the lieutenant governor talk about what this state is going to do moving forward.


LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER (R-LA): We're learning about the incredible number, I think over 50 calls to 911 of the alarming relatives of these 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.


YOUNG: Yes, unthinkable.

But then you put on top of this the human loss here. You're talking about seven deaths that have been connected with this, and all these families still very upset about what was going on, these conditions just exploding, all those 911 calls calling for help with no one to answer.

CAMEROTA: So, also, Ryan, I mean, what the nurses have said -- and they're short of the whistle-blowers who have talked about the squalid conditions -- what did they say they saw?

YOUNG: Well, that's one of the things that stood out to us as well.

We have the 911 logs, not the 911 audio, but the logs. And I can read some of this to you. You see one caller called and said a patient was having trouble breathing, and another call saying they were having seizures.

Then CNN spoke with another woman who basically said that she was not allowed to get out of her bed. She didn't have her wheelchair. When you put these stories together, you think about the fact that the license has been revoked from this -- from these centers, but still the fact that people were calling and basically saying they could not get the help they needed and food was running out, with no air, with no power, you understand why there's a lot of focus right now on what was being planned ahead.

Now, there were generators at the location behind me, but, apparently, they were low on fuel. And so there was a lot of people who thought they were -- their family members were going to be OK in these facilities, and that just wasn't the case. When you look at the outside of that warehouse and you think about the extreme heat, there's nothing about comfort and warehouse, extreme heat and lack of food that makes any sense here.

And you think someone would have a hurricane plan, especially with an area that experiences hurricanes all the time. That didn't happen. And now a lot of questions are still coming.

And, look, let's be honest here. This investigation is not over. This city hasn't recovered enough for investigators to get to all the places they need to get to. So, and as we drive through the streets and still see New Orleans trying to get back on its feet, there's so many questions that need to be answered about what happened with all these residents, 800 of them in this one location.

CAMEROTA: We know you will stay on it, Ryan Young. Thank you.

So, right now, flash flood watches are again in effect across the Northeast, which, of course, is still reeling from the catastrophic flooding following Ida.

Meteorologist Tom Sater is in the CNN Weather Center.

So, Tom, more severe weather is heading here?


But we're not looking at 10, 15, 17 inches of rain. However, it's not going to take much to create more flooding. The ground is completely saturated. River levels that have receded could easily rise. We're just talking a couple of inches. You can see where the cold front is, stretching from all the way in Maine, all the way back into areas of Northern Texas.

However, because there's been so much debris everywhere, storm drains that were cleared may be clogged again, because it just takes hours after hours, day after day for that water to recede. Not only that, though. Think of all the debris from homes that have been gutted, taking out the Sheetrock and the bad wood and the furniture. That could kind of help re-steer and deviate some of this flash flooding.

But it is a well-defined line. It is thin, but it's more of a conveyor belt. So, as it moves in this evening, which will be at darkness, we could have minor flash flooding, but basically an urban scenario where it could pile up quickly in some of these areas with the storm drains that are clogged.

But, again, it moves into Washington, D.C., this evening I would say around 8:00. It will be moving toward 9:00, 10:00, maybe even around the midnight hour more toward Northern New Jersey and New York. Boston will have it for tomorrow morning's rush.

But this is going to be like a conveyor belt. So, that means one storm system after another moves through in the same region.