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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Schools in the U.S. Reconsider Mask Rules Amid Delta Variant Resurgence; Canada Eases Restrictions As Vaccinated Americans Can Now Travel to Canada; Corporate America Pushes Back Return-to-Office Plans. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 09, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: It is Monday, August 9th, it is exactly 5:00 a.m. here in New York, thanks for getting an EARLY START with us this Monday morning, I'm Christine Romans.

WHITNEY WILD, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: And I'm Whitney Wild in Laura Jarrett this morning, thank you for hosting me. Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Well, depending on where you live, you might just be a couple of weeks away from going back to school, all while seeing this huge news about a coronavirus resurgence really all across the country. This is trickling a scramble to re-evaluate masks in the classroom.

In Arkansas, the Republican governor says he regrets signing a mask ban into law. In Florida and Arizona, some school districts say they'll insist on masks despite bans on state mask mandates. The U.S. Education Secretary actually says going rogue here is going to be a good thing.


MIGUEL CARDONA, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: I think it's more dangerous for students to be home and have interrupted learning because of the decisions that we're making. We're clearly at a fork in the road in this country. You're either going to help students be in school, in person and keep them safe or the decisions you make are going to hurt students.


ROMANS: Of course, they're not vaccinated. The best safety for them for spreading the virus of course, is wearing a mask. Now, the months of remote learning took a heavy toll on nearly all students and the effects have been profound on younger grades especially kindergartners. Take a look, an analysis by "The New York Times" and Stanford University found that across 33 states, 10,000 local public schools lost at least 20 percent of their kindergarteners. Meaning they're not coming back to go to class. In Philadelphia, it was 28 percent.

Meanwhile, average daily COVID cases are back up above 100,000 for the first time since early February. The situation especially dire in Florida where hospitals are filling up.


JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It's so high in Florida that I think that if Florida were another country, we would have to consider banning travel from Florida to the United States. He needs to -- he needs to understand that he's painted himself into a corner. People are dying in Florida, it's going to get much worse. The hospitals are filling --


REINER: With people --



WILD: In Jacksonville, Florida, six members of one church died within two weeks. The pastor said 15 to 20 other church members are hospitalized with the virus. On Sunday, that church held its first vaccination clinic. Joining us now is public health physician Dr. Chris Pernell. Chris, so, I'll let Christine take the first question --

ROMANS: Well, you know, I just want to -- the start of school year almost here. Tons of problems, doctor, for parents here. The mask debate is reaching a fever pitch. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, the Texas Governor Greg Abbott, they have banned public schools from requiring masks, yet companies are pushing back their opening dates because, you know, they want to make sure their people are safe. Schools are not. How dangerous is this politicization of the virus as the Delta continues to spread?

CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Christine, yes, it's very dangerous. I want to be very clear and emphatic about this. Absent a national strategy, we are putting children at risk in states where their governors are just, frankly, anti-science and going against public health good sense. We know that, that vaccination is our most full-proof way of keeping the majority of people safe and especially those who are not quite eligible for vaccinations. So, we would need adults in schools to be vaccinated.

Second, we need to think about ventilation. We need to make sure that there are portable in-room air filters. And third, we need to have all children, all adults, every person inside of a school building wearing a mask. There's something that the federal government can do about this. And I think we are at that point, otherwise, we are putting our children needlessly at risk.

WILD: All right, let's go to the numbers here, so 24 states saw at least a 10 percent rise in positive COVID-19 cases, 23 states saw 50 percent increase in positivity. That is a massive jump. So what can be done to slow this rapid spread? You were just talking about masks. Are masks and vaccines the only answers or should the government be doing actually more, encouraging more social distancing? I mean, what do you think the answers are here?

PERNELL: So when we think about the public health playbook, we think about a multiplicity of options to prevent harm and to keep the greatest number of people safe. But at the top of that list is going to be vaccinations. We need to ensure that those who are currently eligible understand the importance of getting vaccinated. That we battle misinformation and disinformation as soon as it exposes, and that we work on access. That we don't give up on people prematurely and say that they're not going to vaccinate.


We need to consider mandates in places where mandates are not currently being used. And, yes, we need to mask. Politicization of masking dumbfounds me. Look, I'm preventionist, I'm a public health physician and we are focused, we are trained to say what can you do to prevent the disease, to prevent the sickness. And we're just going in the backward direction. We're going in the wrong direction. I'm hoping that cooler heads prevail and that science wins the day.

ROMANS: I mean, we all -- we have young children here, you know, I have unvaccinated children because they're not -- one of them is not old enough to be vaccinated. I mean, what's your best advice for my family -- for our families going into the Fall? I want my kids in the classroom. I want them learning every day if I can.


ROMANS: It's got to be the mask, yes?

PERNELL: Yes, it has to be the mask. And ask questions and put pressure on your local school system. Advocacy matters and advocacy works. Parents have a very large voice, and parents have a right to ask of their district what are your safety measures that you've put in place to keep our children safe. Schools really need to consider mandates for employees to be vaccinated and, two, to ensure that everyone inside of a school building is wearing a mask. And this goes for whether or not a school or not, whenever you're in a public, indoor place, wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. I think we're there.

ROMANS: All right, Dr. Chris Pernell, thank you so much for joining us so early this morning, it is such an important moment here as we get ready to go back to school --

PERNELL: Thank you --

ROMANS: Thank you, doctor. Vaccinated Americans can now travel to Canada. The public health agency of Canada announced three weeks ago that restrictions are being eased because of rising vaccination rates and declining COVID cases. Know that the U.S. CDC still places Canada at level three high for COVID, level four is the highest warning. Under Canada's new guidelines, any one traveling from the United States must be fully vaccinated for at least 14 days before entering Canada for non-essential travel. WILD: Well, France is in the middle of its own battle over vaccine

mandates. Starting today, everyone entering most public places like cafes, restaurants, trains, will have to show a health pass proving their COVID vaccination status or show a recent negative test. The requirement has triggered massive protests across the country every weekend since it was announced. But it's also prompted millions of people in France to actually get the vaccine. So it seems to be working. CNN's Jim Bittermann is live in Paris. So, Jim, can you explain what's behind this requirement and then explain the reaction for us.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR EUROPEAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fact is that -- what's behind it is the fact that cases, they're going up. They're calling this the fourth wave. The fourth COVID wave here, and the government basically put it like this, you either get the health pass and there's buying -- you either get the health pass, get vaccinated and have a negative test, or another lockdown is in store because it can't the numbers that are -- they see, and you know, increasing all the time here. So, the Delta variant of course is across, and as a consequence in places like this, it's your long distance best terminal, trains, planes, et cetera.

You're going to have to show a health pass as well as in cafes, bars and all the other ones that you mentioned. So, it's going to be an extra burden. I asked the main regional manager of this bus line whether or not he thought that this was kind of a burden that he had brought in extra people or whatever. Here's what he had to say.


VINCENT HAYS, BUSINESS DIRECTOR, FRANCE & BENELUX, FLIXBUS: The drivers are not happy to meet the police here, obviously, they need to do that because it's necessary, and yes, we -- once again, we ask for understanding from the passengers, you know.


BITTERMANN: And some of the drivers that we talked to actually felt reassured by this because they're all vaccinated, and the idea that their passengers might not be is something that they've been a bit skeptical about all the way along here. So, now that they know that the passengers have been vaccinated or tested negative, it's reassuring for the drivers.

WILD: All right, Jim Bittermann in Paris, France, thank you.

ROMANS: All right, the spread of the Delta variant here in the U.S. has corporate America's September office plan, return to office plan on hold. Last week, major companies including Wells Fargo, Peloton, BlackRock and more, they delayed their planned returns. Amazon pushing back its return to offices now until next year. Delaying the return to the office is giving companies also more time to urge employees to get vaccinated.

Tyson Foods, Facebook, Goldman Sachs all making vaccines a requirement to get back into the office. On Friday, United Airlines became the first major U.S. carrier to require its employees be vaccinated. The executives said any employee who refuses to show proof of vaccination will be fired. Companies doing whatever they can to get their employees vaccinated including cash incentives, Kroger, McDonalds, Bolthouse Farms, Vanguard all offering some incentive to get the shot. Vanguard is offering its workers a $1,000. Other companies even before mask mandates, Whitney have said, look, you can have time off to get the shot.

Time off to recover if you have an adverse reactions. Time off, even next year, a couple of extra time days off. They're just trying to really get a vaccinated work force so things can get back to normal.


WILD: Absolutely. All right, Christine, thank you. All right, this is a huge news out of -- huge news out of Albany. Top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo resigning this morning. And now, one of the women accusing him of sexual harassment is speaking out for the first time.


WILD: New this morning. The top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo resigning last night. In a statement, Melissa DeRosa said the last two years have been quite emotionally and mentally trying. DeRosa did not mention the governor even one time in her statement. Her resignation comes less than a week after a report from the New York State Attorney General found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women.


ROMANS: One of those women, Cuomo's executive assistant Brittany Commisso identified herself publicly for the first time on Sunday, detailing her claims of harassment.


BRITTANY COMMISSO, FORMER EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT TO ANDREW CUOMO: I believe that he groped me. He touched me not only once, but twice. What he did to me was a crime. He broke the law.


ROMANS: Cuomo and his attorney deny the allegations.


RITA GLAVIN, ANDREW CUOMO'S ATTORNEY: He did not grope her. He did not grope her and there was evidence that was provided by several individuals to the attorney general about potential motives for her to have made that claim.


ROMANS: The New York State Assembly Judiciary Committee will meet with their lawyers today to discuss the impeachment process. The meeting could produce a timeline for Cuomo's potential impeachment. How close did former President Trump come to enlisting the Justice Department to help him overturn an election? Two former top Justice Department officials were questioned Friday and Saturday by the Senate Judiciary Committee Richard Donoghue and Jeffrey Rosen, telling lawmakers how Trump-appointed DOJ lawyer tried to help the ex- president undermine democracy. CNN's Katelyn Polantz has more.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN REPORTER: Good morning Christine and Whitney. The Senate Judiciary Committee over the weekend made quick work of getting on the record key leadership of the Justice Department at the end of the Trump administration as they investigate how much President Donald Trump, at the time, was pressuring the leaders of the DOJ to substantiate his election fraud claims. So, what we learned was that the number one person and the number two person at the DOJ at the time both sat for very substantial interviews on Friday and Saturday.

That's the ex-acting deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue. He went in on Friday for 5 hours with the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Saturday, the number one person, the ex-acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen, he spoke for seven hours with the committee and Rosen specifically was talking about five key episodes where a subordinate of the two men, a man who was leading the environment section of law at the DOJ was trying to act out of the chain of command at the Justice Department to push election fraud claims that he held that were in line with Donald Trump's.

Now, it's an open question at this time whether Clark -- Jeff Clark was acting on his own or if he was taking specific directions from the White House or Trump. That is something that we know that the Judiciary Committee and other committees on the Hill will be asking about. But what we did learn over the weekend after both of those interviews with Donoghue and Rosen is that the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin spoke to Dana Bash. He didn't provide details about new information that was shared in those interviews, but he did have a key take away. Here is what he told Dana.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Just how directly, personally involved the president was, the pressure he was putting on Jeffrey Rosen, it was real, very real. It was very specific. This president is not subtle when he wants something -- former president. He's not subtle when he wants something. And I think it's a good thing for America that we had a person like Rosen in that position who withstood the pressure.


POLANTZ: Durbin also said that the committee does want to talk with Jeff Clark in the coming weeks. And my sources told me over the weekend that he has been in talks with Capitol Hill about a potential interview. Back to you.

ROMANS: All right, Katelyn, thank you so much for that.

WILD: Well, this has been the string that all the committees have been trying to go for, is what actually happened between former President Trump and what was going on within the Justice Department. None of these investigations so far has been able to bring like a formal analysis of that, but we are getting little bits of it, and we have been over the last several months. So, let's bring in former federal prosecutor Andrew Cherkasky.

So, Andrew, like I said, we've seen little bits and pieces of what was going on within the Justice Department. E-mails, a little bit of information dripping out from these interviews. Senator Dick Durbin told Dana Bash what he heard in this Jeffrey Rosen interview was frightening. It was a seven-hour testimony. So just bring us up to speed. I mean, what is your thought when you hear that the activity here in the Justice Department is described as frightening in the very crucial days leading up to the riot.

ANDREW CHERKASKY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: We have to look at the timing. That's the most concerning here because at this point, Attorney General Barr had already resigned. He had completed an investigation in late 2020 that determined that there was not voter fraud in Georgia. So, this is after Attorney General acting Rosen had come in and many were thinking that President Trump was going to give that time. But he wasn't. It looked like the pressure was still intense. And Mr. Clark sending this e-mail, trying to get involved in it with the DOJ into Georgia after these election fraud claims had been debunked.


That's what's really concerning. If there's a connection that's drawn between Mr. Trump, directly pressuring Mr. Clark to circulate this memo and this effort, that would be even more evidence against Mr. Trump having tried to directly interfere with the DOJ operation.

ROMANS: And you know, the timeline here is so critical, not only after there was this push behind closed doors by Trump to investigate the election and "election fraud", big air quotes. The Capitol riot then happened. Explain to us just how deep this investigation could dive into Trump's meddling efforts within the DOJ.

CHERKASKY: Right, we have to look at how late this goes into 2020 and early into 2021. Because we have evidence that the DOJ had done the investigation and had determined that there was not a basis to interfere with what Georgia was doing in the ultimate certification process. You have to remember the legal basis was relatively simple. It was really two parts. One, was there evidence of fraud, and two, even if there were some evidence of it, was it near the numbers that would overcome the results of the election. And Mr. Barr's administration, when he was acting attorney general in December of 2020 had determined very firmly that, that was not the case.

So, to continue to push that from the White House appears to be very much in direct contradiction to what the evidence was and what the DOJ had determined was the appropriate way forward at that point.

WILD: Andrew Cherkasky, thank you.

ROMANS: All right, 21 minutes past the hour, five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning officially honored in the pro-football hall of fame. The quarterback -- his emotional remarks at his induction ceremony is next.



WILD: Peyton Manning delivering a speech filled with emotion and a lot of moments of liberty as well. This was in his hall of fame induction speech last night. Andy Scholes has this morning's "BLEACHER REPORT". Andy, Peyton Manning, one of the funniest men in the NFL.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he certainly has been over the years, Whitney, and no doubt, Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and, you know, also, one of the greatest personalities of all time as we've seen in all these commercials on "Saturday Night Live" and what not. And Peyton, emotional, thanking his family during his speech. We also had plenty of jokes. They gave each inductee between 6 to 8 minutes to give their speech, and Peyton thanking Ray Lewis for going 33 minutes in his speech back in 2018 with the new guideline. And the five-time NFL MVP also giving a shout-out to his biggest rival Tom Brady who was in Canton for the ceremony.


PEYTON MANNING, NFL HALL OF FAMER: Next year acceptance speeches will probably shrink to four minutes, and speaking of rivals, my good friend Tom Brady is here tonight, by the time he's inducted --


By the time Tom Brady is inducted in his first year of eligibility in the year 2035, he'll only have time to post his acceptance speech on his Instagram account.


SCHOLES: Yes, Brady, getting a mixture of cheers and boos there, obviously, a lot of Colts fans in attendance there in Canton. All right, to baseball, the Colorado Rockies are investigating a racist incident that happened during yesterday's game against the Miami Marlins. The home plate mic picked up an unidentified fan using a racial slur towards Marlins' outfielder Lewis Brinson in the ninth inning. In a statement, the team said it was disgusted by the language, adding "the Rockies have zero tolerance for any form of racism or discrimination, and any fan using derogatory language of any kind will be ejected and banned from Coors Field." Now, the Marlins -- meanwhile Major League Baseball responded to CNN's request for a comment.

All right, finally, the Summer Olympics officially coming to an end with the closing ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics stadium for the third straight Olympics. Team USA finishing at the top of the medal standings. The Americans edging China by one on the final day for the most gold medals. Team USA dominating the overall medal-count with 113, well ahead of China's 88. Heat star Bam Adebayo, he was back in the states, and he was at the Vegas Summer league games last night showing off his gold medal, probably take that everywhere with him these days. And you know, we don't have to wait very long for the next Olympic games. The Beijing Winter Olympics, guys, just six months away --

WILD: Wow --

SCHOLES: In February. Just incredible it's going to happen so soon.

ROMANS: The Olympics COVID time warp. We're all living in kind of a time warp apparently as we try to get back to normal --


ROMANS: Nice to see you.

SCHOLES: All right --

ROMANS: Thanks, Andy. Over the weekend, rapid gains by the Taliban taking control of another city in northern Afghanistan.