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Benton Harbor, Michigan Declares State of Emergency Over Water Crisis; Fauci Says, Confident Age Limit for Boosters will Drop Soon; House Asks DOJ to Criminally Prosecute Bannon for Defying Subpoena. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 22, 2021 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Officials in Benton Harbor, Michigan, are declaring a state of emergency after the discovery of high levels of lead contamination in the water there. Right now, the timeline to get the lead out of that city's water system is 18 months, a year-and-a- half. Residents are told to use bottled water for everyday activities, including cooking, drinking and brushing their teeth.

ERICA HILL, CNN NEWSROOM: And to make matters worse, residents are really still recovering from a water main break that forced the city to turn off service earlier this week.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is live in Benton Harbor, Michigan, this morning. So, Miguel, first, what's an update on the situation? Is the water back on?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, when it rains, it pours in Benton Harbor, it seems. So, these are two disconnected situations, but, yes, big water main break, it was an 89- year-old pipe that they are replacing. It broke in town. They were able to get it reconnected. But the problem with that is that you may have bacteria leaked into the water system so the entire town now is under sort of bottled water-only and don't drink the water at least for now. They're bringing the pressure up across town so water service is coming back.

On the lead issue, they have been dealing with that many years now. About three years, many tests over the last three years have showed an elevated level of lead in the water. For the state of Michigan, which is very sensitive to lead in the water after the crisis in Flint several years ago, the level of lead they'd like to see in the water here is zero. For federal governments, it's 15 parts per billion. But here in the state of Michigan, they'd like to see zero.

So right now, what is happening and across the city, and they have been doing it for some time, they are handing out water to residents so people can get water, advising them not to drink the water at least for now and to not use it for cooking and other s purposes. But it is slowly coming back. The governor had announced previously a plan to replace all the pipes here. On Monday, she came to town to announce that they were going to do an expedited process to get those pipes replaced within 18 months. She's asked the legislature for the rest of the money to do that on an expedited basis. The legislature will take that up.

One committee in the legislature here, which is Republican, the governor is a Democrat, they've asked for an investigation now into the governor and what her administration knew about the situation here in Benton Harbor all the way along. Back to you, guys.

HILL: Miguel Marquez, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Joining us now is the mayor of Benton Harbor, Michigan, Marcus Muhammad. Good to have you with us, Mr. Mayor.

As Miguel lays out all of the issue there, right, and the sort of legislative logistical issues, the reality is for the people in your city, the 10,000 residents there, their water has too much lead in it even if the water has been turned back on. They're being told it's going to be at least 18 months, and there isn't even the money there, right, to replace all of those pipes. So, what do they do for the next 18 months?


MAYOR MARCUS MUHAMMAD (D-BENTON HARBOR, MI): Well, the first thing, you know, I'm letting residents know that we will provide clean and safe drinking water. Currently, we have up to 30,000 cases of water coming into the city. We've expanded sites. We'll be hiring residents to do the delivery service so we can reach senior citizens, disabled persons and people who may be working and not able to pick it up at the different sites.

The good thing is we started with $284,000 in 2018. And as it stands today -- and I said then that I wanted to work with state and federal officials to procure more funding, because I knew that $284,000 was not a dent in the larger project. But I'm happy to announce today that we have $18.6 million. We've already started to replace and remove lines, identify more homes, and the work has begun.

SCIUTTO: Mayor Muhammad, this is, of course, reminiscent of what we saw in Flint a number of years ago, I mean, amazing in 21st century America that there is lead in people's water and it takes this long to fix it. I wonder how this makes you view the ongoing debate about infrastructure, right, in this country. Is this a sign that this kind of thing is necessary in a number of cities around the country?

MUHAMMAD: Well, I think it's a wake-up call for the United States of America, the state of Michigan. I was in front of the House Oversight Committee yesterday, and some of the committee members discussed and talked about other cities in the state of Michigan that are experiencing this problem. And I've said before, Flint had it first, the city of Benton Harbor is battling right now.

But my goal is working with the governor, the Republican legislator. I've been in contact with my congressman and good friend, Fred Upton, that if we all work together, the city of Benton Harbor can become a model not just for state of Michigan but before the entire United States.

HILL: Yes. Because this is certainly, as you point out, not just an issue in your town or even just in the state.

I'm curious, one of the things that came out of Flint is -- we talked about the impact of lead and the impact of that on children. Are you concerned at all? Are you seeing any health issues from these elevated lead levels in the water?

MUHAMMAD: So, in talk with the Berrien County Health Department, I was on the phone with Dr. Loren Hamel, CEO of Lakeland Spectrum Beaumont, and they have not seen any uptick in terms of in seniors or in children.

However, you know, our posture at this point is caution as it relates to the drinking water. We'll be testing residents' water as well as children and the governor's directive or executive directive allows for it to be done at no cost.

So, it's an all hands on deck, all-government approach. The city council just recently declared a local emergency, which empowers the mayor, myself, to work with the agencies and do whatever is necessary to resolve this problem as quickly as possible.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. We hope you're able to move quickly. So many families and children are impacted there. Mayor Marcus Muhammad, good luck to you.

MUHAMMAD: Thank you so much. I would just like to lastly say to the Senate, to the House, you know, the city of Benton Harbor is a perfect example where real lives and real people are impacted. So, I plead with Washington, get us the infrastructure bill, because Benton Harbor needs it and we need it now.

SCIUTTO: Well, we hope they're listening, Mayor Marcus Muhammad.

Still ahead this hour, Dr. Fauci suggests the recommended age for COVID-19 booster shots could go down soon. What he's watching as booster rollouts start soon for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, coming up.



HILL: This morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci says millions more people could soon be eligible for COVID vaccine boosters.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I would be rather confident that as we get further and further over the next weeks to months that the age limit of it is going to be lowered. And you might soon fall into the age category where you can get eligible for a booster.

Israel, which is about a month ahead of us in the timetable of it, is seeing substantial waning of immunity over several months, first against infection and then in some age groups against severe disease.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now to discuss, Dr. Jay Varkey, Associate Professor at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Dr. Varkey, good to have you back.

I try to be a good-news guy on the pandemic, and here you have -- they're the data. The data shows that while the vaccine works fantastically well, particularly against hospitalization and death, that over time that wanes, you have a booster and the booster does a really good job of re-juicing your immunity.


I mean, is that the way folks should look at this?

DR. JAY VARKEY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Yes. In fact, Jim, I'll even take it one up on your sort of glass- half-full approach, is that when I talk to my medical staff, I don't even use the phrase, waning immunity. Our immunity evolves. That's totally normal. That's expected not just with COVID but actually with other infections. If not, our blood would be this highly viscous solution, just sludge full of antibodies.

So, we actually have to have adaptive immunity, and that's the beauty. Our immune system is much more complicated than just antibodies. And as you said, these vaccines, boosted or not, remain fantastically effective at preventative people from dying of COVID or from being seriously ill where you require hospitalization.

But the takeaway that I get from the last couple days is if you're over 65, you should get a booster. If you had the Johnson & Johnson product, you should get a booster. There are other segments of folks that as we learn more that will benefit from boosting but we have to actually vaccinate the unvaccinated.

HILL: In terms of getting some unvaccinated vaccinated, part of that could change, right, when we hopefully approve or see authorization, I should say, for the vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds. FDA advisers are meeting on Tuesday.

But we also got some new data from Pfizer. They're now saying -- new data this morning, the vaccine is 90.7 percent effective against symptomatic COVID in kid ages 5 to 11. What should we make of that number, because it sound pretty good to me, a lot better than a flu shot?

VARKEY: Yes. Erica, it's fantastic and it should really be -- this is exactly what parents have been clamoring for for the last 18 months. In fact, I can even show it graphically. This is actually publicly available data on the FDA's site. And, again, what this shows is that you want to be on the blue line.

This is showing COVID infections over time among 5- to 11-year-olds who got the Pfizer product compared to a placebo. And what it showed is that if you were in the group that got the Pfizer vaccine, over time, and this is during the delta wave, only three kids actually got a COVID-19 infection. You compare to the placebo arm, 17 kids did. So, that's how they calculate that efficacy rate. And, over time, we expect that bridge to even be more.

This could be a real game changer if parents vaccinate their kids. Remember, vaccines don't end pandemics, vaccination does. So, I really hope that this will bring solace and hope to parents who want safety for their kids, and especially in schools.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, think, a lot of parents get flu shots for their kids with, I don't know, maybe 50 percent efficacy against the flu. This is 97 percent effective in kids 5 to 11. Dr. Jay Varkey, let's hope folks listen to you.

VARKEY: Thanks, Jim. Thanks, Erica.

SCIUTTO: The Justice Department is now considering criminal contempt charges for Steve Bannon. What's next for the former Trump senior adviser and the broader insurrection investigation, that's next.



HILL: All eyes now on Attorney General Merrick Garland after the House voted to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress, nine Republicans voting with all 220 Democrats to pass the resolution. So now it's up to the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute the Trump aide.

SCIUTTO: The vast majority of Republicans deciding not to enforce a subpoena from their own chamber.

Anyway, members of the January 6th committee believe that Bannon did have significant knowledge around the planning of the Capitol attack.

Joining us now is CNN's Whitney Wild joins us. So, Whitney, you look at this, there are a lot of steps here waiting for a decision from the Justice Department, but how about in the investigation itself?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're still moving forward. I mean, this -- as I have said before, this message to Bannon was meant to also be a message to anybody who is planning to defy the subpoenas.

So, they are moving forward. We know that there's an expectation that people are supposed to be handing over documents this week as well next week. The assumption is that those documents are rolling in. We've spoken with several people who know that many of the people who have been subpoenaed are cooperating, and by cooperating, we mean actually giving the committee what they're looking for. When we're talking about the Department of Justice, as you know, there are several steps until they actually get to the point where Steve Bannon might face a criminal contempt charge. And what that includes is, first, this is going to go over to the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C. It will very certainly have to be signed off on by main justice, specifically Attorney General Merrick Garland.

There's a possibility this could go to grand jury. There's a possibility they could just move forward with the criminal charge. We simply don't know what the logistics of that is yet. So, there are still outstanding questions, points along the way where this could just all dissolve, because it could be that the Department of Justice says, we're not doing it.

SCIUTTO: Meanwhile, there are others who have not yet complied with their subpoenas and there's question as to how much contact they're in. Do we know what happens to like Scavino or a Kash Patel?

WILD: I mean, I think based on what I've heard from the committee several times is that if people these defy the subpoena in this way -- it's one thing to have your attorney speaking with the committee and keep the line of communication going, but if there's an outright defiance of the subpoena, I would be very surprised if they didn't try to move forward in a similar way. And that include filing these criminal contempt charges against people who are saying they are not going to abide by the subpoena, because they want to make clear subpoenas from Congress are real and you can't let one person off the hook and throw the book at somebody else.


SCIUTTO: And, by the way, the president, the Republicans would say, if and when they take over Congress, what is the value of their subpoenas?

WILD: Right.

SCIUTTO: Anyway, if folks look that far in the future, maybe they don't. Whitney Wild, thanks so much for covering the investigation for us.

And thanks so much to all of you for joining us today. The weekend is coming. I'm Jim Sciutto.

We made it, Jim. I'm Erica Hill. Good to have you all with us this week.

At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts after a quick break.