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COVID Cases Trending Down in U.S.; Supreme Court Returns for Blockbuster Term; OPEC and Allies Meet on Oil; Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired October 04, 2021 - 09:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: How about we start the week off with some good news when it comes to the fight against COVID-19. Dr. Fauci saying the U.S. is, quote, turning the corner on this particular surge. It's a nice way to start things off. This morning, cases and deaths trending downward. Look at those numbers there.

All of this, though, coming as the U.S. has recorded more than 700,000 deaths from coronavirus. Yet another grim milestone.

Joining us now to talk through this, CNN medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University.

Always good to have you with us.

I want to pick up on something else Dr. Fauci said when talking about the holidays, said, it was too soon to know if we can safely gather for Christmas. And the CDC putting out this guidance that feels very 2020, quite frankly, saying the best way to celebrate is virtual with people who live with you or be outside and at least six feet apart.

I mean hasn't that ship sailed at this point, realistically?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, there's still a lot of delta out in the community and there is still a lot of people in the community who haven't been vaccinated. So there are about 70 million people in this country who are eligible for vaccination, who remain unvaccinated. And with a lot of virus, there is the potential for a great deal of infection. And, plus, we have breakthrough infections. So I think what Dr. Fauci is basically articulating is this notion that things are getting better, but this virus is not yet done with us. So we'll have to see over the next several weeks, you know, how low the cases, you know, drop. You know, they dropped about 26 percent in the last -- in the last two weeks. We'll see how quickly that continues.

HILL: Do you think that guidance that was helpful from the CDC, I mean, yes, they want to get out in front of this and be ready for the holidays, but when you're essentially telling people the same guidance that you've been given, and we know how frustrated people are, you know, you want to give people more incentive, hopefully to get vaccinated if they haven't done so already.


Do you think this is, you know, the right messaging on the part of the CDC, on, you know, October 4th at this point?

REINER: Well, there's certainly a risk of sort of sort of message fatigue. I thought for a while that the most important thing the federal government could have done towards the end of the summer is tell people that you won't be able to travel this holiday season unless you're vaccinated. I think we're seeing that vaccine mandates and incentives are -- do impact people's behavior. And if people want to travel via bus or airplane or train this holiday, perhaps the federal government should mandate vaccines. I think that's -- that would have the most, I think, impact going forward.

HILL: When we look at, you know, because we're learning so much about this virus, obviously, as we go, there's a new modeling study in "The Lancet Microbe" that suggests unvaccinated people who get sick with COVID will likely be reinfected and that it's likely to become increasingly common. We know that there are a number of people who have said, look, I had the virus, therefore I don't need a vaccine. This sounds to me like further proof that vaccines are not only effective but far more effective than simply getting infected and, you know, counting on the antibodies that may or may not be there down the road.

REINER: Right. I think what we're -- what -- saying that another way, what we're learning is that natural immunity from infection may be short-lived and that in order for us to have a more long-lasting immunity, we need to be vaccinated, whether you've been infected or not.

HILL: When we look at where we're at, you know, as we were talking about, the numbers are going down. Specifically, you know, I really focus in on those hospitalization and deaths numbers. When we start to see those drop, that's a really good sign. But I'm wondering, what are you looking for at this point that would actually, you know, cause you to have a little sigh of relief.

REINER: Well, hospitalizations are, I think, our most sensitive indicator. Hospitalization data comes directly from hospitals. It's not subject to day-to-day trends. You know, certain days of the week there are more reporting than others for cases. And our hospitalization numbers continue to move in the right direction, now dropping below 80,000 people hospitalized. It's dropped 20,000 people since the beginning of September. And it's dropping a few thousand people per day. So I think that's very, very encouraging because, obviously, what follows hospitalization are deaths. And now -- and deaths, I think, have just peaked and are starting now to decline. They dropped below 2,000. I think our latest 14-day average is about 1,800 deaths per day. It's still horrifying but deaths are starting to drop.

So, if we could increase vaccination and that should help us continue to see a decline in hospitalization. But follow the hospitalization numbers because as those numbers drop, so will -- so will deaths a few weeks lagging from the hospitalization declines.

HILL: Dr. Jonathan Reiner, always appreciate it, thank you.

REINER: My pleasure.

HILL: Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, ahead, in just a matter of minutes, in fact, the Supreme Court will convene for the start of its new term. Some of the nation's most divisive issues are on the docket. We're going to be live with what to expect. That means a lot. That's coming up.



SCIUTTO: The Supreme Court is back in session today. And this term could see landmark rulings on several divisive issues, including abortion, guns, religious liberty, affirmative action as well.

HILL: CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider takes a look at how this Supreme Court will function as some interest groups call for a change to the court's makeup.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The justice will be back on the bench Monday morning after more than a year hearing arguments over the phone because of COVID.


SCHNEIDER: Justice Brett Kavanaugh, though, will not join his fellow justices in person after testing positive for COVID late last week.

The return to the courtroom will bring a spotlight brighter than its been in years. Just as public approval of the nation's highest court has plummeted, a new Gallup poll conducted right after the court allowed a restrictive Texas abortion law to go into effect last month shows an approval rating of 40 percent, the lowest in 20 years. Five of the nine justices have spoken publicly in the past few weeks about the controversial decision and some of the division.

JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT: I've been on the court for 30 years. It's flawed. But, you know, I will defend it because, knowing all the disagreements, it works.

SCHNEIDER: Clarence Thomas is the longest serving justice on the court that now has a 6-3 conservative majority, and he's long been outspoken on the two major issues confronting the court this term, abortion and guns. Justice Thomas has previously called Roe v. Wade the landmark case that established a constitutional right to an abortion before 22 to 24 weeks, plainly wrong, and lamented that the Second Amendment has become, a disfavored right. The court will wade into the culture wars on both issues before 2021

concludes, with arguments on a New York gun law restricting people from carrying guns in public in November and arguments on a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks, a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade on December 1st.


Fractures have been in full view recently with stinging dissents from the liberal leaning justices after five of the conservatives refused to block the Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks without hearing arguments, a move some critics label part of the shadow docket.

Last week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was blunt about what she thinks lies ahead. There is going to be a lot of disappointment in the law. A huge amount. Look at me. Look at my dissents, she said at an event hosted by the American Bar Association, adding that while she couldn't change the Texas law, the public could by lobbying lawmakers.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who had been pushed by progressives to retire last summer, minced no words on the Texas decision in an interview with CNN last week.


SCHNEIDER: The conservative justices have been pushing back. The newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, appeared at an event with the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, and declared, my goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.

Justice Samuel Alito was even more forceful in a speech at the University of Notre Dame, at times blasting the media for portraying the now conservative leaning court as a dangerous cabal, deciding important issues in a novel, secretive, improper way in the middle of the night. Alito calling the criticism that the court was acting in a way that was sneaky or dangerous, very misleading.


SCHNEIDER: And all of these competing comments come at a time when the issues are only set to get more divisive. Of course, the Texas abortion law was decided strictly on procedural grounds, but the court will hear a case on the merits involving abortion on December 1st. It's a Mississippi law that restricts abortion after 15 weeks.

Of course, today, the term is set to begin in just minutes. There are two relatively under-the-radar cases, one involving a water rights dispute between states, another involving a criminal case.

But, of course, Jim and Erica, this is the first time that the justices will be back inside the courtroom hearing arguments in person in just about 18 months. The one justice missing will be Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He tested positive for COVID last week. He'll be participating remotely. But it is set to start off a term that could be explosive, guys.

HILL: Yes, that is for sure. We'll be watching.

Jessica, appreciate it.

Still ahead, a critical meeting today on oil production around the globe. What we could learn about the impact of that on the price you pay for gas. Those details are next.



SCIUTTO: Today, the world's largest oil producers will soon hold a critical meeting. It could have a significant impact on the price you pay for gas.

HILL: Amid spiking oil prices, OPEC and its allies are soon expected to decide whether to add more oil to the market.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans joining us now.

So, Christine, we've seen rising gas prices due to supply disruptions. Also recovering demand from the pandemic. So, what are we expecting out of this meeting today?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: So this -- according to "Reuters," this meeting has just wrapped up. And OPEC and its allies have decided to stay the course with the new oil they've been pumping, 400,000 barrels per day, will continue into November. The next meeting will be in November. Essentially what that means is the path of least resistance for oil prices continues to be higher. Remember, they took a lot of pumping out of the system when the COVID -- coronavirus recession slammed the world. Now they've been adding that capacity back in. But supply has not been increased as quickly as demand has increased. And you can see that in crude oil prices. I mean right now they're up some 3 percent again. Brent crude above $80. You can see all of the oil complex is still rising because, again, demand is so brisk for these products and because of supply glitches and a whole host of reasons you're -- you're not seeing the supply there to meet that demand.

What it means for you at home, you know exactly what it means. It means you're paying $10, $15 a gallon -- or a tank of gas, rather, more than you did a year ago. So oil prices at a three-year high mean gas prices rising. Gas prices are more than $1 higher today than they were a year ago. So this is one of those stories that's -- one of those factors really that's feeding that inflation story.

And it's a factor that I think is a really important kitchen table piece of your economics because you feel this every week or every two weeks when you're driving and filling up the gas tank. So I think the bottom line from this OPEC meeting today is don't expect the big players like, you know, Saudi Arabia and Russia and the big OPEC players to be rushing out there to pump a whole bunch more oil to ease this -- to ease this crisis. SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROMANS: Iranian oil and U.S. shale makers are not quite there yet to even -- to fill the gap quite yet in this COVID world.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's a reminder it's a cartel, right?


SCIUTTO: I mean they raise and lower the prices based on their interests. And if they keep it where it is, they make more money per barrel, right? I mean it's as simple as that.

ROMANS: Yes. Well, higher oil prices, $80-a-barrel oil is something the producers like to see, right? But you also want to -- if you -- if you pump more then you can make even more money. So that's also an incentive to maybe try to pump more as well.

HILL: All right, Christine, appreciate it. Thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

HILL: A shooting at a Philadelphia hospital early this morning. A man is accused of shooting and killing his co-worker, then getting into a shoot-out with police. Police say the suspect fatally shot a 43-year- old certified nursing assistant. This happened at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in the early hours. Then that person sped away this a U-Haul truck. And about an hour later, a witness flagged down police on the street saying there was a man in scrubs firing a weapon.


Well, police say that man then began shooting at them. They fired back. Ultimately two officers were shot. One is now in critical condition. The 55-year-old suspect was also hit. He, too, in critical condition.

SCIUTTO: Just ahead, California officials are warning about a potential environmental catastrophe as they race to contain a big oil spill off the coast there. We're going to be joined live by the county's supervisor who's now responding to the damage.



SCIUTTO: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HILL: And I'm Erica Hill.