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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Deadly Misinformation Fuels New Concerns as Restrictions Return; Tokyo Olympics, Minus Spectators, Just a Week Away; Severe Floods in Western Europe, At Least 93 Killed; Wildfires Raging Across Western U.S., 68 Large Fires Burning. Visit. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 16, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Friday morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Polo Sandoval, in for Laura Jarrett. Thank you so much for helping me close out the week here, as it is, of course, Friday, July 16, 5:00 a.m. here in New York.

ROMANS: All right. A rare warning, a warning from the surgeon general here of misinformation is a threat to public health. That misinformation as you all know is everywhere. And it means too many Americans are not vaccinated, unvaccinated Americans are a breeding ground for new variants. The delta is more dangerous and it is causing more restrictions.

Los Angeles County will reinstate its mask mandate starting tomorrow night as COVID cases and hospitalizations there spike.

SANDOVAL: The University of California now planning to bar most unvaccinated students and faculty from in-person classes. The UC- system includes ten campuses, about five medical centers with more than 280,000 students statewide. And as we've seen before, cases rise, vaccination pace also falling right now. It's now down about 75 percent in just the last two months.

And that is why the surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, just yesterday here at the White House briefing room revealing that he lost ten family members to the pandemic, also saying that as a father, he is also waiting to vaccinate his younger children. He declared the onslaught of misinformation on social media, quote, a public health hazard.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Millions of people don't have access to accurate information because on social media platforms and other tech platforms, we're seeing the rampant spread of misinformation and it is costing people their lives. Tech companies will say that they have taken some steps forward and they have, but we need much more action from technology companies. This is not a problem that we can take years to solve.


ROMANS: Breakthrough infections are also raising concerns. The Yankee's Red Sox game postponed last night after six Yankee players tested positive. And NBA star Bradley Beal will miss his first Olympics because of COVID protocols.

All of these developments are raising questions about boosters now. Do you need them now, potentially down the road? We'll have more on that in a moment.

SANDOVAL: And COVID case numbers, they are also very quickly climbing in Japan. Just a week before the highly unusual essentially unique Olympics is set to open.

CNN's Will Ripley is live for us in Tokyo this morning.

Well, just a few days until opening, and now, organizers are making some changes to medal ceremonies. What are those going to look like?


Yeah, you said it, this is going to be the most bizarre Olympic games that we've seen ever because the things that they are doing have they have been done before. The spectator ban has never happened and now for the first time, instead of the athletes having the medals placed over their heads and presented to them, somebody will walk up with a tray, they will hand the tray to the athletes and then they put on their own medal.

It just is surreal. And there are protests here in Tokyo in the coming hours and in Hiroshima where the president of IOC, Thomas Bach, made a visit and survivors of the atomic bombing have actually called that visit an insult to them, that he is going there at this time.

The Olympics overwhelmingly un unpopular here in Japan, but for some who I met, it is even more personal than that.


RIPLEY (voice over): Japan's Olympic stadium, a symbol of the troubled Tokyo games, and for Kohei Jinno, a reminder of the home he lost. Gino got an eviction notice in 2013, when Japan won the 2020 bid, a year of national triumph, and personal loss. Around 200 families, mostly senior citizens, evicted. Their housing complex demolished five years ago, replaced by Tokyo's multibillion dollar 68,000-seat showpiece, a bitter pill made worse because it happened before.


RIPLEY: That stop sign there?

JINNO: Yes. RIPLEY: He points to a stop sign, where his childhood home used to be. It was also torn down, to build Tokyo's 1964 Olympic stadium, rising from the ashes of World War II.

The first Olympics was during the reconstruction period, we were happy to cooperate, he says, but this time, we were treated without compassion.

Jinno thought it was too soon for Japan to host another Olympics, and that was before the pandemic.

The stadium that cost him his home will sit virtually empty during the games. The first spectator ban in Olympic history. Tokyo is under a fourth COVID-19 state of emergency.


Cases surging, vaccination rates low. A recent poll shows nearly 8 in 10 Japanese don't want the games to go ahead.

Kazunori Takishima calls it mass hysteria, a self-described super fan. He has been to every Olympics since Torino in 2006.

He says the decision to ban spectators is based on emotion, not science. Takishima has 197 reasons to be angry. That's how many tickets he bought for Tokyo 2020, spending nearly $40,000. The spectator ban, crushing his dream of a world record for attendance.

To be honest, all I have now is sadness, he says.

It looks like a storm coming.


RIPLEY: As Takishima talks about his heartbreak, the skies open up.

It's raining right now, he says, the god of the Olympics is angry, and I think it's a sign that it's not too late to allow spectators.

And Olympic dream about as distant as a sunny day.


RIPLEY (on camera): And here we are just a week away from the opening ceremony and case numbers continue to trend up here in Tokyo to their highest daily levels since January. But it is not cases coming in from the outside, just a handful of positive test results for the thousands of people around 10,000 or more who have arrived so far from other countries largely vaccinated.

These cases are happening inside Japan including eight hotel workers at the hotel where the Brazilian judo team was staying. They tested positive before the athletes arrived. They did not have contact with the athletes, Polo.

SANDOVAL: Will Ripley in Tokyo with a set of emergency remains in place. Thanks a lot, Will.

ROMANS: All right. Historic floods battering parts of Western Europe, some of the worst is in Germany where dozens have died and some 1,300 people are still assumed missing in one German state.

CNN's Nina Dos Santos is live for us in London.

And, Nina, these flood images from Germany, also Belgium and the Netherlands, just terrifying.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN EUROPE EDITOR: Yeah, really dramatic, Christine. We're talking about a month's rainfall, in some cases more than a month's rainfall in just about 9 hours, about 200 millimeters is what fell on some of the most stricken parts of Germany in the West, including North-Rhine Westphalia, which is the most populous German state. We know that more than 40 people perished there and that part of Germany alone, across Germany, the death toll is fast being revised upwards, it is now in excess of 90, as 12 people also lost their lives in Belgium.

Essentially, what appears to have happened is that a low pressure weather system dumped large amounts of rain over four country, Western Germany, also Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and some parts of Western France as well, over a very short period of time.

And this has prompted a lot of members of the German government to say that these dramatic scenes can only have been caused by climate change. That comes just a couple days after the E.U. announced a huge multibillion-dollar package to try and tackle climate change across its 24 member states and also remember that climate change is becoming increasingly toxic subject in Germany which is preparing for elections in the end of Angela Merkel's 16-year term, in just two months from now.

Now, Merkel, of course, is over in the United States for her state visit. She called these scenes catastrophic. Offers of help have been pouring in from France, Italy, the U.K. Messages for condolences from Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin of Russia.

But for the moment, before any money makes its way towards trying to repair the damage that has been done, obviously, emergency services have to try to stem the damage and try to help people who are stricken in the top floors of some of these buildings. That's why we've seen these dramatic scenes of people being lifted by helicopter from collapsing buildings in parts of Germany.

Now the real concern is being that more rain is on its way in southwestern Germany, also over Belgium and the Netherlands. And as such, the third biggest city of Belgium, Liege, has been evacuated. We saw pictures of people being taken to safety in water that was up to their shoulders -- Christine.

ROMANS: The third largest city in Belgium evacuated and more rain on the way. Thank you so much for that, Nina. Keep us posted.

SANDOVAL: President Biden says he will soon have answers to all the questions about travel from the U.S. -- rather, to the U.S., from Europe. As Nina just mentioned, German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the United States right now, she raised the matter yesterday during this Oval Office visit.

Europe eased restrictions for American travelers last month, but the U.S. has not returned the favor yet, maintaining a strict travel ban. Now, even if restrictions are lifted, it could take a while to actually get to Europe. In fact, U.S. travelers without valid passports -- right now, they're facing an 18-week wait time just to get that passport.


The State Department is dealing with a backlog of well over a million applications. My wife is about to submit her application, Christine. We're expecting a long way.


You know, and if you do it now, if you put that application in now, you can expect late fall maybe, is when you're going to get that back. So, everybody, please plan accordingly.

All right. The housing market is booming, the economy is roaring, but minimum wage workers in America can't afford to pay rent anywhere. Why the cost is out of reach for so many Americans.



ROMANS: It's not just squatters anymore or rent, housing has become so expensive in the U.S. that average workers can't afford their rent. In no state, county, or city in America can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom rental, this from a brand-new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That same worker can afford a one-bedroom rental in just about 7 percent of the country.

The federal minimum wage, of course, is stuck at $7.25 per hour, but the average worker would need to make almost three times that to afford a two-bedroom home.

A person in California needs to afford $39 an hour to afford a two- bedroom apartment. In Hawaii, it's nearly $38. In New York, it's $34 an hour to afford to rent. A worker in West Virginia would need to earn $15 an hour to make the rent.

The federal government put protections in place to stop a wave of evictions during the pandemic, and $46 billion was set aside for struggling renters, but the report notes people will still struggle to pay rent in the future if the government doesn't address long-term housing affordability.

SANDOVAL: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expected to face questions on Saturday from members of the state attorney general's office, these questions about the sexual harassment allegations against him. The governor's interview is expected to take place in Albany and could signal the investigation is slowly coming to an end. A senior adviser to Cuomo claims Attorney General Letitia James is, quote, politically motivated. James' office is also investigating after releasing reports in January, alleging that the state undercounted nursing home COVID deaths as much as 50 percent.

ROMANS: All right. To the West United States now, dozens of raging wildfires scorch more than a million acres. Some communities racing to escape what they just rebuilt.



SANDOVAL: Welcome back.

So, in case you're asking yours, exactly how bad has this fire season been so far? Consider this: smoke from wildfires, it is blanketing the country from California here to New York. Sixty-eight major fires are currently burning, consuming more than a million acres and almost anything in its past. Red flag warnings for high fire danger, they are up in five states in the Pacific Northwest. In Oregon, the bootleg fire has already burned more than 227,000 acres. And it's also largely uncontained.

ROMANS: You know, a national shortage of aviation fuel threatened to hinder the firefighting effort in Oregon. You know, delivery to the Lake County Airport was delayed, keeping helicopters and planes that dropped fire retardants on the crowned for days. Worsening drought, historic heat wave, the western U.S. is baking.

Now as temperatures cool, gusty winds are fanning the flames, making it more difficult for fire crews.

We told you yesterday about a small California town trying to recover from the devastating campfire. People there now are forced to rebuild again.

CNN's Sara Sidner reports from Doyle, California.



SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the second time in just eight months Kathy Catron's home town has lost more than a dozen homes to wildfire.

CATRON: It sounded like a freight train coming down the mountain. The smoke rolls over you. All of a sudden, it is dark. All you see is this big huge orange wall of flames everywhere you look.

SIDNER: Catron is the volunteer fire chief of this town of about 600 residents. She is often the first one to call residents to tell them their home is gone. KELLY GROSS, DOYLE RESIDENT: I'm still kind of numb. I mean, after

losing everything I worked for, all these years. It's gone and everybody says, oh, it's replaceable and stuff. Well, no, a lot of it isn't.

SIDNER: Saturday, Kelly Gross lost one of the 16 homes burned in Doyle. Everyone thought the danger was over. But on Monday the fire came roaring back, devouring more homes. Chief Catron and several residents were angry that air drops from state and federal agencies didn't come earlier.

CATRON: We were like the lone ranger. A lot of the engines weren't where they should have been and weren't down there, you know, maybe. And I was, at that point, I was ready to say, I can't do this anymore.

SIDNER: Apocalyptic fire scenes are appearing more and more across the West. So far this year, 67 large fires across 12 states have burned an area nearly five times the size of New York City.

CAPT. DENNIS SMITH, CAL FIRE: The frequency of fires has skyrocketed.

SIDNER: Cal Fire Captain Dennis Smith has spent 25 years battling some of the biggest blazes in the state of California.

SMITH: We used to get some what you would call career fires, maybe once every few years. And we're seeing career fires, 100,000-plus acres, is a common occurrence every year now.

SIDNER: It's the new normal.

SMITH: The resources are spread through the state as we're burning from the Oregon border down to Mexico.

SIDNER: California is on track to have an even more devastating fire season than 2020 which was the worst on record with 4.1 million acres charred.

DEP. CHIEF CHRIS TRINDADE, CAL FIRE: Being from California, I'm sure you hear this fire season will be the worst fire season, right? Every year we hear that.

SIDNER: Which means the grueling work must go on for longer in days of 100-plus temperatures in some places.

And once the big flames are smothered, days of intricate work begin on hidden hot spots. There is one goal in mind. Save lives and then property.

Are you proud, you look around this entire house and it's charred 360 around this house. But the house, perfect.

SMITH: Yeah. The house is still standing.

SIDNER: But 250 miles away in Doyle, the local fire volunteers are devastated. And residents are worried they're at the beginning of what used to be the start of fire season. [05:25:00]

Sara Sidner, CNN, Doyle, California.


ROMANS: It's just -- fire season gets worse every year, it lasts longer every year. My cousin who lives in San Diego says, it's almost like half the year is now fire season.

SANDOVAL: A constant threat.

ROMANS: All right. Misinformation online, a breeding ground for mistrust. Now, preventable COVID heartbreak on the rise and new breakthrough cases are slowing a return to normal. What it all means, next.


ROMANS: Good Friday morning. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

SANDOVAL: And I'm Polo Sandoval, in for Laura Jarrett.