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U.S. Seeing Fewer COVID Infections and Hospitalizations; CDC to Meet This Month to Discuss Moderna, J&J Boosters & Potentially Vaccines for Younger Children; Police: Laundrie's Parents Refused to Talk About Gabby Petito; Soon, Biden to Speak on Restoring Protections for National Monuments & Conservation. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired October 08, 2021 - 13:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: It feels good on a Friday, when you can say throughout the week we've watched new cases and hospitalizations trend in the right direction, south.

So just how close could we be to being done with this phase of the pandemic? Experts are split.

Here's one thing though that we do seem to be hearing across the board: In many ways, it's too soon to tell.

Here's what we heard from the COVID testing czar under President Trump.


ADM. BRETT GIROIR, FORMER HHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY: We have certainly turned a corner. Cases are down about 50 percent from the peak. We've passed the peak of Delta infections and hospitalizations. And deaths are trailing off.

These are very, very good signs, but we are not out of the woods yet.

As the surgeon general says, there are still a lot of Americans who do not have natural immunity and who have not been vaccinated. They are still susceptible.


HILL: Joining us now Dr. Saju Mathew. He's a primary care physician and public health specialist in Atlanta.

Always good to see you.

Look, I think we all -- and I count you firmly in that camp because I know you feel the same way -- we all want to know when this will end. We all want it to end.

[13:35:08] But you were pretty clear even on Twitter, a few moments ago, you're not so sure we've turned a corner here.

DR. SAJU MATHEW, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN & PUBLIC HEALTH SPECIALIST: Yes, Erica. I really have a problem when scientists use the word turning the corner. Turning the corner would be when we have daily cases of under 5,000.

Now we have over 100,000 or slightly below 100,000. And when the number of daily deaths are below 100 consistently, going down, then perhaps we're turning the corner.

Let's not forgot the dark winter of last year.

I mean, when I think about winter, I'm not necessarily thinking about Christmas carols and Thanksgiving dinner. I'm thinking about the number of holidays that are going to be falling back-to-back.

Lots of Americans traveling. We had record travelers last year.

A lot of people are still unvaccinated, 80 million to 90 million people.

So once we can get 70 percent of those vaccinated and we can get the daily cases below 5,000 a day, maybe I'll say we are turning the corner, but not yet.

HILL: Those are some of the metrics we can look to show that we're getting closer then.

We did just learn, a short time ago, that meetings are scheduled for the vaccine advisers at the CDC for them to look at both boosters for Moderna and J&J vaccines.

And also -- I know a lot of parents looking at this, myself included -- also for vaccines potentially for younger children.

Having those meetings on the calendar is a good sign?

MATHEW: Absolutely a good sign. That's definitely some good news to look forward to.

And we have may a surprise for kids in that it might be shots up the arms for kids 5 to 11. This vaccine works well. It showed a good immune response.

We also know that kids would be getting one-third the dose of adults. Erica, that's really key. We wanted to make sure we found the right dose.

And for the J&J vaccine recipients, hey, guys, we haven't forgotten you. The data is also showing that a second jab of the J&J vaccine offers tremendous protection, especially if it's given six months.

And also, as you mentioned, Moderna will be following suit. They will be talking about boosters in arms soon. So the FDA is going to be really busy. But we need to move fast. Winter is on its way.

HILL: Yes, it certainly is.

I know you just got your booster. You've also been seeing, as you pointed out, a fair amount of breakthrough cases.

I always think it's important when we talk about breakthrough cases to point out that this vaccine is still incredibly effective.

It's doing exactly what it was designed to do, which is to keep people from getting seriously ill, keep them out of hospital, keep them from dying.

That said, what you're seeing in terms of more breakthrough infections, do you think this is because of the virus that's out there?

Is it because of a natural waning immunity that would, perhaps, spark a need for more of the general population to be eligible for boosters?

Where do you see the connection?

MATHEW: Yes. I think, Erica, it's a combination of everything that you mentioned.

We know that the vaccine immunity will wane over time. That's a given. We know that, as scientists, the Delta variant is twice as contagious as the original strain.

And we also know that people who are vaccinated, unfortunately, are sort of being a little more relaxed. Just because you're vaccinated or even boosted, you still need to wear a mask.

I mean, I was so excited to get my booster shot, I waited nine months after the second shot, Erica, because I'm a huge believer in science. I wanted the FDA to give me their blessing.

But just because you're fully vaccinated does not mean you should not wear a mask. I'm seeing quite a lot of breakthrough infections, at least five to seven per week.

But this is the good news. It actually means that your vaccine works. You're recovering at home, and you're not going to the hospital and dying.

So for people who are hesitant, please take this message. The vaccine does work. A breakthrough infection doesn't mean that the vaccine is not doing its job of keeping you alive. And that's what is important to know.

HILL: It really is.

Dr. Saju Mathew, appreciate it as always. Thank you.

MATHEW: Thank you.


HILL: We have breaking news this hour in the Gabby Petito case. Police now saying publicly that Brian Laundrie's parents wouldn't talk about Petito when first questioned about her disappearance. We have those details, next.


HILL: Well, conditions may be improving in that vast Florida nature preserve where authorities have been searching for Brian Laundrie. An attorney for the family says water in the area is receding, which could make some more areas more accessible.

And important to point out, there's a lot of questions about, if somebody was in that area, whether they could have survived in this swampy gator-infested space. Certainly, not very hospitable.

Jamie Hooks is a wildlife tour guide, who has been conducting his own search in there. Here's what he had to say on "NEW DAY" this morning.


JAMIE HOOKS, WILDLIFE TOUR GUIDE: The northern tip of that is the state park, which has not allowed gator harvesting in that area for 60, 70 years at least.

So the population has really, really grown in that area. And the vast majority of them are huge alligators.


And this is a time of year that they are feeding right now before the cold weather sets in because they won't be eating. So -- but if you're in there walking around, you're pretty much prey yourself.


HILL: Authorities, of course, have been searching that area for some time looking for Laundrie since September 17th, two days before the remains of his fiance, Gabby Petito, were found in Wyoming. The two had been on a cross-country road trip.

CNN correspondent, Leyla Santiago, joining us now from North Port, Florida, where the Laundrie family lives.

Leyla, just moments ago, police telling CNN, the day that Brian Laundrie's parents reported him missing, they actually wouldn't answer any questions about Gabby Petito? What else did we learn?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, police here, North Port police here have said for weeks now that the parents have not really been cooperating with them in this investigation.

And quite frankly, that has been at the core of frustrations for detectives and this community.

Just minutes ago, actually, as we speak, there's a plane flying over this house where the Laundries live that says, "End the silence. Justice for Gabby."

That is still happening weeks after Gabby was reported and Brian was reported missing.

Now, it's actually pretty quiet beyond that this morning. We went to the reserve. Had no signs of law enforcement there this morning.

Checked in with North Port police. They said, this morning, they were not there, but that could change at any minute.

So, you know, this is interesting to see that there's not a lot of movement at the reserve just a day after Chris Laundrie, Brian's father, was out there with law enforcement showing them his favorite spots that he was known to frequent in that area.

So, again, the frustration coming from North Port police over the cooperation, or lack thereof, from the Laundrie family is something that we've been hearing for weeks.

But to hear those details of the fact that they were essentially handed a business card of the attorney when they came to ask questions.

To hear that they wouldn't answer questions when it came to Gabby or that they felt that they were sort of prepared with that attorney information and having the attorney on the phone with them, certainly paints the picture as to why that frustration remains among investigators and North Port police.

But also, remember, North Port police not alone here. The FBI is also a part of this investigation. But from them, which is common, we're not hearing a lot. It's very typical of the FBI when it comes to investigations.

HILL: Yes. Certainly. They don't want to give away too much, even as we would all like some of that information. But understandably, in the course of an investigation, it's tough to do that.

Leyla Santiago, I really appreciate it as always. Thank you.

Also with us criminologist and behavioral analyst, Casey Jordan.

So, Casey, a police spokesman telling CNN they found the behavior of Brian Laundrie's parents odd on the day they reported him missing.

You know, as Leyla was just reporting, they were only asking questions about their son. They wouldn't answer questions about Gabby.

My question to you is not just what you make of that, but what's interesting to me is now that police are talking about it, right?

I mean, as it was laid out, there's a reason we don't learn about certain things in the course of a investigation. But there's also reasons why we do learn about things.

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST & BEHAVIORAL ANALYST: That is absolutely correct. I mean, as an example, we keep waiting for the cause of death, and I assure you they know the cause of death but we, the public, don't need to know that. So of course, they found it odd.

I mean, compare the behavior of Gabby's parents who were frantically trying to report her missing to any law enforcement entity that would listen to them and were getting the big shuffle.

And then, of course, one week later, Brian Laundrie's parents call on the day her body is found and say they haven't seen his son and gone missing. Of course, that's odd.

The fact that they had a lawyer on speaker phone during their conversations with the police to report their son missing is extremely odd.

But the police don't come right out and say that because they don't want to alienate the Laundrie family, which I totally understand. You want to try to gain their trust, get them to cooperate, get them to talk to you.

So the reason they didn't call it odd from the outset is because they were trying to get the Laundrie family to work with them.

And here we are two weeks later, more than two weeks later, no sign of Brian Laundrie. And they have given up the ghost on that.

I think it will be kind of a full-court press against them from here on out.

HILL: That's interesting, too, because that comes on the heels of hearing from the family attorney that they actually brought in Brian Laundrie's father, Chris, to help, according to the attorney, to help with the search.

That timing, I have to say, felt a little odd to me that it would be weeks into this.

JORDAN: Yes, "help" in quotation marks. I don't know that he's helping because, at this point, law enforcement isn't going to come out and say this.

But I think that they have concluded, after all of the weeks of searching the preserve with hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of searchers, he's not there and probably never ever was.


So if you are considering that the whole idea that he went camping there and the planting of the Mustang at the parking lot was just part of a big hoax, a red herring to buy time for Brian Laundrie to go elsewhere and to become a fugitive from justice, which he is officially now, then you understand that the parents and the father going through the preserve to show them favorite sites is just more red herring hoax.

And I think that the police took that little tour with him to monitor his behavior and take that opportunity to watch him, to listen to him, to try to analyze his behavior, and figure out whether he's being truthful and whether they'll waste any more time in the preserve.

HILL: Do you think -- based on your experience, do you think he's alive?

JORDAN: I absolutely think he's alive. But I don't think he's in the preserve. I don't even think he's in the United States at this point.

And keep in mind, they keep saying they were surveilling him to best extent of the law but never say they saw him. No one actually saw him.

So he could have been gone from the first of September, not the 17th of September. He had plenty of time to make his escape if that is his plan.

HILL: Casey Jordan, always good to talk to you. Thank you.

JORDAN: Great to talk to you.

HILL: Some Texas clinics are resuming abortions now after a judge's ruling. But many concerned, fearing another legal setback. We'll get you updated with the very latest, next.



HILL: President Biden set to, just moments from now, begin speaking on restoring protection -- you see him walking out -- protections for national monuments.

This is just an hour after we first heard from him in reaction to the economic report.

But you see him getting ready and taking off his mask and talking about restoring protections for national monuments.

And also we're told that they'll be talking about conservation, how to restore lands and waters.

Let's take a listen.


GINA RAIMONDO, COMMERCE SECRETARY: We're here to celebrate the latest step that President Biden is taking to protect and conserve and restore the lands and the waters that all of us cherish.

Today, President Biden is restoring protections for three magnificent national monuments. And this announcement follows on consultations with a wide variety of stakeholders. And it fulfills a key promise to the American people. Restoring protection for the national monuments is part of this

administration's broader commitment to protect our natural and our cultural resources, to honor tribal sovereignty and to advance environmental justice.

President Biden's conservation agenda is also a critical part of how we're tackling the climate crisis.

By protecting our eco-systems, we strengthen the power of our soils, our grasses and our trees to trap carbon pollution.

And healthy natural systems build up our resilience against the climate impacts that we know we are already facing.

Tapping into these natural climate solutions will protect public health. They will protect us against climate impacts. They will promote biodiversity. And, yes, they will grow our economy.

That is worth a clap.



RAIMONDO: That is why President Biden, his Build Back Better agenda, has also proposed creating -- are you ready for it -- a new Civilian Climate Corps.


RAIMONDO: Which will partner with our unions and reporting to work a new generation that looks like America.

Receiving good benefits and good pay to restore the health of our public lands, our coasts, our waters and our forest.

And to advance environmental justice and help communities to better prepare for the impacts of the changing climate.

And across our administration, we're taking a whole-of-government approach to conservation and to climate with the agencies that steward so many of our lands and waters, like the Department of Interior and Agriculture and Commerce.

We're all working together to advance wind and solar, to promote climate smart agriculture and forestry and create good-paying union jobs all along the way in implementing these innovative climate solutions.

So as we celebrate today's restoration of the three national monuments, we're also committed to building back better as we tackle our climate crisis.

With that I'm so honored to introduce my good friend, Brenda Mallory, the chair of the White Council on Environmental Quality, who is leading on our conservation and environmental justice efforts. Brenda?





It is so great to see all of you in person. I can't tell you how exciting it is to be in person on this day and this event.

I want to welcome you to the White House.