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Texas, Florida Governors Ramp Up Attacks on Vaccine Mandates; Blood Samples in China Could be Clue to COVID's Origins; Coroner: Gabby Petito's Cause of Death was Strangulation; NFL Watchers: Others May Be Exposed, Culture Must Change; Rocket Carrying William Shatner to Launch today; Study Depicts the Impact of Rising Sea Levels. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired October 13, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a very warm welcome to or viewers joining us in the United States and right around the world. I'm Isa Soares in London. And just ahead right here on CNN NEWSROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good-bye Trump, hello vaccines. We're so glad to see you, Joe Biden. And now people look at him in a negative way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's serious concern that the mandates themselves may be causing this backlash that may bring portions of an already fragile economy to its knees.


SOARES: Some U.S. state officials push back against the president's vaccine mandates as Democrats do their own policy and Joe Biden's economic agenda is on the brink.

Ruled a homicide -- officials release details of how Gabby Petito was killed.

Now in just few hours William Shatner, the actor who's fictional mission was to boldly go where no man has gone before is making his voyage to the stars a reality.

ANNOUNCER: Live from London, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Isa Soares.

SOARES: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the show. It is Wednesday, October 13, and we begin this hour with political tensions brewing in the United States. And not just over President Biden's domestic agenda. The fight over how to handle the pandemic is also deepening the political divide as Republican leaders in Texas and Florida ramp up their attacks on COVID vaccine mandates. Now, those states have seen more COVID cases and deaths than almost any other, and yet their governors are trying to enact blanket bans on mandates. The White House had some very sharp criticism on Tuesday. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Governor Abbott's executive order banning mandates, and I would also note announcement by Governor DeSantis this morning essentially banning the implementation of mandates, fit a familiar pattern that we've seen putting politics ahead of public health. Over 700,000 American lives have been lost due to COVID-19, including more than 56,000 in Florida and over 68,000 in Texas. And every leader should be focused on supporting efforts to save lives and end the pandemic. Why would you be taking steps that prevent the saving of lives?


SOARES: Well, in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott's ban on vaccine mandates extends to private companies as well. But many won't be going down really without a fight. Dell Technologies says its plans aren't changing. Employees will be required to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. In Harris County, where Houston is, a county attorney called the ban shameful and encouraged business owners to sue. And this year the Houston Methodist hospital system said he is deeply disappointed.

Well, the airline industry isn't backing down either. American and Southwest, which are both headquartered in Texas, say their vaccine mandates are staying in place.

Over in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is saying he might follow Texas lead by trying to pass a law against vaccine-related firings. Listen to this.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Whether you're working for the police department, the sheriff's department, the fire department, whether you're working for a small business, a large business, I don't think you should be fired over these shots. I just don't. I think you need to be protected.


SOARES: Well, here's how Mark Davis, a conservative radio host based in Texas, is really explaining the vaccine mandate backlash.


MARK DAVIS, HOST, 660 AM THE ANSWER: him There's serious concern that the mandates themselves, well-meaning though they may be and there's debate over that, may be causing this backlash and this serious full- on revolt that may bring portions of an already fragile economy to its knees, creating I believe a valid debate whether the mandates are in some way counter intuitive if our goal is to get more people vaccinated.


SOARES: But that was what Texas. Meanwhile other states are marking vaccine milestones. There are now five states, all in new England, that have fully vaccinated more than two-thirds of their residents.

Now, almost two years since COVID turned our world really upside down and with nearly 5 million deaths worldwide, vital clues about the origins of the virus could be sitting in a Chinese hospital.


As many as 200,000 blood samples taken in Wuhan two years ago. China says it will start testing them soon, but when and how and critically how much will Beijing actually reveal. Here's our Nick Paton Walsh.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ground zero for the illness sparking global unease.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is likely a brand-new viral pneumonia.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): It is perhaps the last publicly known clue to where coronavirus came from. But will the world ever learn the truth of what it says? Tens of thousands of tiny blood samples taken in Wuhan in the last months of 2019 are still stored in a hospital there.

MAUREEN MILLER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EPIDEMIOLOGIST: The samples from the blood bank absolutely will contain vital clues.


YANZHONG HUANG, PROFESSOR, SETON HALL UNIVERSITY: This is the closest to the what we've seen of real time samples.

WALSH (voice-over): The samples might reveal when and even where antibodies against the virus first appeared in humans in October or November two years ago. China says they had to be kept for legal reasons for two years in case of lawsuits over the blood transfusions they are from. But now that limit is almost up for the key months at the end of 2019. And a Chinese official confirmed to CNN that China is preparing to test them. Echoing a promise from July when they said they would share the results.

Related institutions from the Chinese side, he says, also express that once they have the results, they will deliver them to both the Chinese and foreign expert teams. The samples come from the disposable tubes that carry donor blood into the donor bag, and it's something that W.H.O. team said earlier this year, they wanted to examine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- for the origins of the coronavirus.

WALSH (voice-over): They could contain vital detailed information.

HUANG: Might also help us to follow the trajectory of the spread of the virus, you know, by tracking the individuals who may carry the virus.

SCHAFFNER: And you would like to go back to find out exactly during which month this virus started to leave fingerprints in the human population in China.

MILLER: It is common practice to de-identify the samples. So, you could strip it down to basic demographics, age, gender, neighborhood where they lived, all of those data will be available.

WALSH: But the same problem emerges again, it will be China and China alone, doing the testing and reporting their results. The U.S.'s recent report into the origins of the coronavirus and statements from allies have all demanded greater transparency from China. But now, this key data is being examined a full two years later. And there's no plan as it stands for outsiders like the WHO to be allowed in on it.

HUANG: In order to make it convincing and credible the results, I mean, ideally, you want to involve, you know, the W.H.O., you know, the foreign experts.

MILLER: I'm not completely certain that China has not done this testing and has not shared the results.

SCHAFFNER: What we always say is trust but verify. It truly would be better if the Chinese scientists would permit external scientists to be with them to collaborate to do this all together.

WALSH (voice-over): But instead, this vital remaining clue risks being mired in recriminations and uncertainty again.


SOARES: And Nick joins us now. And Nick, good morning to you. I mean, some of your doctors in that piece in your piece hinted at, no one -- the theories that no one will believe any of the results that China reports, of course, unless qualified observers are allowed in. Is the W.H.O., Nick, pushing to examine the samples? What are you hearing from them?

WALSH (on camera): Well, it was a key part of their report in February -- in March stating very clearly that these samples were of interest to them. And as far as I understand, they haven't stopped being interested in them. In fact, there is likely that jobs being advertised for a follow-up committee of W.H.O. to look at possible further strands of this investigation.

But there is a larger question that was touched on by one of the experts there, isa. This is a country, China, with millions invested every year in virus research, a huge curiosity and appetite for more information about any virus, frankly, let alone the pandemic's virus which has changed so much of our daily lives. So, the question really is did they really permit legal sensitivities over possible lawsuits over blood transfusions to stop them from looking at these samples over the past two years. That's a question the answer to which we may never know.


We might get to know what they want to tell the world about the tests. They say they're doing imminently in the months ahead. And as you heard there, that could be very revealing if, indeed, it is dealt with transparently. It could suggest clusters possibly of the first antibodies that got into humans. Maybe a time, maybe a place. That could be revealing. That could also help clear up this, hate to say it, mess about whether this was a lab leak, of which there is minimal public evidence that is convincing at the moment, or the broader scientifically-backed theory this crossed naturally somehow from possibly bats to an intermediary animal into humans at some other time.

It's important frankly as the geopolitics kind of pickup on this and the finger pointing becomes the only thing you can really see, to reminding everybody that finding out that answer is extremely important for the human race going forward as we push more into areas of natural habitat we haven't been before. This becomes a risk that it could happen again. And still, two years later there is key evidence that is yet to be examined, China admits itself, and key questions we can't answer -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, I mean important context there from Nick. And like you said, the key to all this, Nick, is really expecting and the need for transparency here which has been lacking thus far. Nick Paton Walsh. Thanks very much, Nick, good to see you.

Now, more Americans are quilting their jobs than ever before and analysts say it's about extra leverage workers are enjoying because of the pandemic. A record 4.3 million people left their jobs in August. That is according to the Labor Department. That's just shy of 3 percent of the work force. It is the highest quit rate since the government began keeping track of this two decades ago. Now, most of the people who left were in accommodation and food services, wholesale trade, and state and local government, education.

Now, the International Monetary Fund, the IMF, says a supply chain disruption as well as inflation are slowing economic recovery from the pandemic. The IMF now expects the global economy to grow 5.9 percent this year. That's slightly lower than its July forecast. The 2022 outlook remains unchanged. The IMF slashed its growth forecast for the U.S. by a full percentage point, it's 6 percent, that's the highest reduction for any G7 economy in this forecast.

And with all this news, of course, was a choppy day for U.S. stocks, as you can see there, on Tuesday. Red arrows right across the board. All three main indices really bounced between modest gains and losses before dropping for a third straight session. Dow Jones down 3/10th of a percent. Nasdaq just over a tenth of a percent and S&P 2/10 of a percent lower. But really third day of losses.

Investors are anxious and worried ahead of the consumer price report and earnings from major banks. They are also worried companies will cut their forecasts due to those supply chain problems and rising labor costs we've been bringing you on the show. And this is how futures looked when trading begins in just a few hours. Really mixed day. Dow futures pretty flat. We'll keep an eye on those numbers for you.

Now, the Wyoming coroner who conducted Gabby Petito's autopsy is revealing disturbing new details in the homicide case. The mystery surrounding her death has gripped the country for weeks now. CNN's Leyla Santiago has the story for you.


DR. BRENT BLUE, TETON COUNTY CORONER: Cause of death by strangulation and the manner is homicide.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Teton County coroner releasing the autopsy results of 22-year-old Gabby Petito. The coroner initially determined Petito's manner of death was a homicide. But the cause of her death had not been announced. Dr. Blue says he was limited in what he disclosed from his report.

BLUE: Who committed the homicide is really to be determined by law enforcement. This autopsy included a whole-body CAT scan, an examination by forensic pathologists, anthropologists, so it was pretty much covered all the bases.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): The coroner would only say the official autopsy report shows the body was out in the wilderness before the remains were examined.

BLUE: As far as the time of death, we are estimating three to four weeks from the time that the body was found.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): After an extensive search, Petito's remains were found on September 19th in Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest. She was first reported missing by her parents on September 11th, more than a month ago.

Petito spent the summer traveling across the country in a van with fiancee Brian Laundrie, documenting their adventures on social media.

The couple was stopped by Moab police during their trip to Utah in mid-August after a 911 caller told dispatchers he saw a man hitting a woman. Petito was emotional during the stop.

OFFICER: Is he usually pretty patient with you?


GABBY PETITO, YOUTUBER: Yeah, but I guess it just makes me upset. I know that he definitely gets frustrated with me a lot because I have a lot of anxiety and ...

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Appearing to take some responsibility for the incident.

OFFICER: We want to know the truth, did he actually hit you because, you know --

PETITO: I guess, yeah, but I hit him first.

OFFICER: Where did he hit you? Don't worry, just be honest.

PETITO: He like grabbed my face.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Weeks later when Laundrie returned to the Florida home they shared with his parents, Petito wasn't with him, police said. Now, Brian Laundrie is missing. While he was indicted for allegedly using a debit card without permission just before returning home alone, he has not been named a suspect in Petito's death. The FBI and local law enforcement have been searching the 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve near his Florida home based on information from his parents who told authorities Brian planned to hike there in mid-September. Now nearly a month later, investigators still don't know where Laundrie is.

SANTIAGO: And the Teton County coroner was open to the fact that he's limited in what he can say because of the investigation. He wouldn't answer questions about if the body had been moved or if the body had been buried. In fact, when he was asked if an item was used in strangulation, he wouldn't answer that either. But CNN obtained a public record that was signed by the coroner that indicates it was a manual strangulation swaddling. That is what is listed as the cause. New details coming about after the coroner spoke to press.

Leyla Santiago, CNN, North Port, Florida.


SOARES: Now let me give you an update on the story we were leading the show yesterday if you joined us yesterday. NFL watchers say the scandal that led to Jon Gruden's resignation may expose others in a league whose culture must change. If you remember the Las Vegas Raiders head coach stepped down after a pattern of sexist, as well as racist and homophobic comments and emails dating back to 2011. The Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers says the whole truth will eventually come out. Take a listen.


AARON RODGERS, GREEN BAY PACKERS QUARTERBACK: That was probably the best decision for all parties involved, and hopefully we can all as a league learn and grow from this, and hopefully it puts people on notice who have some of those same opinions. Like hey man, it's time to grow and evolve and change and connect that (BLEEP) doesn't fly.


SOARES: Well, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have removed Gruden from their ring of honor and the footwear company Skechers has severed and endorsement deal. Analysts say conduct like Gruden's cannot be tolerated.


MIKE FREEMAN, USA TODAY RACE IN ANY QUALITY EDITOR: The way women are asserting power, gaining power, and that makes a lot of people like Jon Gruden very uncomfortable. And you see a straight line between all these things in Gruden's emails and most importantly to me how they parallel a lot of these things that the right-wing have been saying for a long time.

STEPHEN A. SMITH, ESPN COMMENTATOR: Jon Gruden won the Super Bowl in 2002. He remained in Tampa for the next six years. He made the playoffs twice. That's it. After that comes to Monday night football, completely removed from coaching for over a decade. And then signs on to take over the Raiders at the price of $100 million over ten years with bonuses that would take his salary up to 118, 120 million. Now I bring that up to say this. Is that happening for a black person? There's no way in hell it's happening for a black person and everybody knows it.


SOARES: We'll stay on top of this story, of course, for you.

And still ahead right here on the show, prepare for lift off, Captain Kirk. We're just a few hours away from after William Shatner's voyage to space. We'll have all the details for you.

Plus, from severe weather to severe storms, parts of U.S. are bracing for extreme weather. We have a check the forecast just after the break. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. Do stay right here.



SOARES: Now, Star Trek's Captain Kirk is preparing to go -- to boldly go where no one his age has gone before. 90-year-old William Shatner is headed for space for real in just a few hours. CNN's Kristin Fisher has details from the Blue Origin launch site in Texas.


KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't think the original Captain Kirk ever had to deal with weather delays when he was commanding the Star Ship Enterprise on Star Trek. But the actor William Shatner has had to deal with two wind delays here at launch site one in west Texas. Shatner says the delays have extended his feelings about this flight, which rocked from total excitement to sheer terror. And at 90 years old, he will become the oldest person to ever fly in space.

He'll be joined by Audrey Powers, Blue Origin's Vice President of mission and flight operations, and two paying customers, both tech entrepreneurs. The four have been training together and living in nearby astronaut village since Saturday. And today if all goes according to plan, they will enjoy about four minutes of weightlessness during a roughly 11-minute suborbital trip to space. The new Shepherd rocket has had 17 successful consecutive flights so it has a very solid track record.

But the FAA is currently reviewing safety concerns that were brought up by more than 20 current and former Blue Origin employees who signed an essay this month, complaining about a toxic work environment where professional dissent is actively stifled. So, there is a lot of attention on Blue Origin both good and bad at the moment. But sending the original Captain Kirk into space, that's something even "Star Wars" fans can get behind.

Kristin Fisher, CNN, Launch Site One.


SOARES: Well, less than three weeks before the big U.N. climate change summit. The COP26 president is warning countries to cut carbon emissions or risk failure. Alok Sharma urged G20 leaders not to treat the conference really as a photo op. And he reminded them of the pledge they made back in July to layout ambitious targets before the summit. Australia, China, India and Russia are among the countries that have not boosted their carbon reduction commitments. Sharma said on climate, the world will succeed or fail as one.


And he's taking aim at the use of coal -- take a listen.


ALOK SHARMA, COP26 PRESIDENT: I was delighted to cochair the G7 climate and the environmental ministers meeting in July where we delivered a historic agreement that no G7 nation would finance any more coal projects internationally. South Korea has made the same commitment. And with China's recent announcement, we are well on the way to choking financing for new coal power as we ramp up support for renewables. But we still need the G20 to tackle domestic unabated coal power use. So, at the G20 meeting I urge leaders to kick coal into the past where it belongs.


SOARES: Well, a new study is painting a dire picture of what our world could look like if global temperatures just keep rising. Researchers from climate central say rising sea levels will impact more than 800 million people if the earth warmed just a few degrees, and 50 major coastal cities will be under water unless they really take unprecedented measures to prevent flooding.

I want to put this into perspective. This, as you can see there on your screen, is the Tower of London. And this is what researchers say it would look like under water in the future. Similar scenes in San Francisco, California -- you're seeing there. Where you can see buildings as well as high rises really immersed in water. Very, very dire picture that they're painting about rising sea levels.

Meanwhile, we are tracking a severe weather outbreak across the U.S. including an early winter storm impacting the Great Plains. Meteorologist Tyler Mauldin joins me now from CNN Weather Center. Good morning, Tyler. You and I were talking about severe weather storms I think it was yesterday, before yesterday. Are these the same or these additional ones?

TYLER MAULDIN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: So, we were talking about it yesterday and the day before. It's like we're in the movie Groundhog Day. Because every time I see you there is ongoing severe weather across the Plains. So, right now, we do have severe weather across the Plains, Isa. These thunderstorms are up here across Oklahoma, Kansas, stretching on into Nebraska.

And on the backside, we have the winter storm dropping a lot of snowfall across the northern Rockies. On the warm side, the severe side, this storm has led to four tornado reports and 30 severe wind reports. Of those wind reports, some of the winds have been above 75 miles per hour. That's above hurricane force conditions. That storm threat is now moving up to the north. It's impacting the Northern Plains, portions of the Midwest, and the Great Lakes.

Later on, today, we'll continue with that mountain snow, though because, look at these contrast in temperatures across the eastern third of the country. We could get up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But behind the system, temperatures are going to be in the 30s and 40s in some areas. You just take a little bit of moisture and, presto, you're going to get some wintry mischief. Again, we're going to continue to see that across the Intermountain West today. And likely in the couple of days, too, because of another spoke of energy that's rolling over. You can also see the severe thunderstorms moving into the Northern Plains and the Great Lakes here.

Something else I want you to notice is that the snowfall totals out there across the Intermountain West have just been crazy for October. Bozeman, Montana has picked up 21 inches of snow within the last 24 hours. We're going to add to that in the days to come. And then you factor in some strong winds, up to 60, 70 miles per hour. That's going to lead to blizzard conditions. And we do have a blizzard warning in the eastern part of Wyoming. So that's something that we're going to have to watch over the next 24 hours there, too.

SOARES: I'm sure you will keep an eye on this and you'll keep us posted, Tyler. Good to see you. Thanks very much. Tyler Mauldin there.

Now, a wildfire near Santa Barbara, California has exploded in size. In the matter of days, the Alisal fire has grown to more than 30,000 acres, that's 5,000 hectors. Evacuation orders have been expanded and parts of a major highway has been closed. The strong winds pushed the flames more than 760 firefighters are battling the blaze, which is only 5 percent contained.

Just ahead right here on the show, Joe Biden sees his domestic agenda stall amid Democratic divisions. What the White -- House Speaker is saying now about plans to pare down a key social policy bill. Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had all the resources. They'll pick you up. We do it for free here at the clinic. He said, yes, I'll go, I'll go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they never did?



SOARES: But now her father has received a coronavirus vaccine. How one group is convincing skeptics to finally get that shot.