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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

State Department Helped Four Americans Escape Afghanistan By Land; Sending Kids Back To School Safely Amid COVID Spike; 414,000 Customers Still Without Power In Louisiana. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 07, 2021 - 05:30   ET



SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They had a pretty tough time, waiting 13 hours at the border before being allowed to cross.

And this methodology is being kept on a close hold by the State Department in case they have to use it in the future. But once they were able to clear through the Taliban lines they were able to get out safely and were in constant connection -- or constant communication I should say with State Department officials and consular officials through their journey. That was a woman and three children who were able to get out.

So a positive sign there that the Taliban are perhaps making good, at least on their promise to allow those with American passports and even green cards to cross out of the country.

It hasn't really been put to the test for other Afghan citizens because in the past, they had been quite aggressive in saying they didn't want Afghans to leave. This is the Taliban position at the moment. They don't want Afghans to leave, but they are also saying officially that those with the right paperwork can go.

But at the moment, of course, the main Kabul airport is closed. They've got difficulties there in terms of security and other methodologies for processing passengers who want to leave the Afghan capital, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and that woman and three children -- presumably, her children, but I don't for sure -- they were American.

KILEY: They are American citizens, yes. They're not traveling on any other papers.

ROMANS: And I guess it shows that --

KILEY: Yes, go ahead.

ROMANS: -- there are still Americans trying to get out of the country. I mean, did the -- does the Secretary of State give any kind of indication of how closely the U.S. is coordinating with the Taliban here to try to allow people out at some point? KILEY: Yes. He indicated in the previous few hours they have been in connection -- in communication with the -- with the Taliban directly. And, Qatar has also been working on that much more broadly for other nationals of other nations, not just Americans, to get out, too --and, indeed, potentially, vulnerable Afghans.

But the Secretary of State said that there were around 100 Americans that wanted to get out -- a relatively small number in Maza-i-Sharif, a lot of whom are mixed up with non-Americans and people --


KILEY: -- without the valid travel documents. And it's actually -- he sort of intimated that really, it was a problem at State -- some of that delay -- because without people on the ground these people can't be screened and processed properly before they're put on aircraft. So they are working very closely still with the Taliban to try to resolve that.

ROMANS: All right, Sam Kiley for us. Thank you so much for that. Keep us posted.

Pretrial hearings are set to resume today in the case of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The last in-person hearing in this case was held in February 2020.

The five detainees accused of plotting and executing the September 11th terrorist attacks -- if convicted, all five could receive the death penalty.

All right, to COVID now. As classrooms across the country welcome kids back for the start of the new year, COVID cases continue to climb. Priority number one for many parents is how to send their children back to school safely.

Let's bring in Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez. She's a primary care pediatrician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Nice to see you again, Doctor.


ROMANS: You know, I've got to tell you -- kids are back in the classroom. What do parents need to know, number one?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Number one, of course, on everyone's mind is COVID, as you mentioned. My concern right now as a pediatrician is that as we take all of these precautions to try to send kids back safely, we are forgetting about so many other things that kids need to be able to learn in person.

ROMANS: Like what?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Like glasses, like dental checkups, like refilling medications, like setting up a sleep schedule. Unfortunately, so many kids have been staying up late all summer and now we need to set back those schedules. We need to make sure that we've had all those checkups, we're up-to-date on vaccines. It's the whole child we're taking care of here.

ROMANS: You also say we need to -- parents need to step in on the learning part of it. With so much about safety and keeping up on other medical needs like eyeglasses and the like, we need to really zero in on where they might be failing.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: And it's -- you know, I feel so badly as a pediatrician putting this on parents, too --

ROMANS: That's just the way it is now.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: It is. We're asking them to do so much and it's so unfair and we shouldn't be here. But yes, now it's the time. This school year we have to be more involved than ever as adults.

Unfortunately, kids are going to come in behind. We have to make sure that they're catching up, and we have to know how to work with the teachers. How are the kids being evaluated? What do we do when kids are falling behind? What's our plan here? We have to be involved, Christine.

ROMANS: Can I ask you what you're telling parents and children about the wearing of the masks? I mean, I know it's so important. Some of these kids are little, right? Is there a trick? Is there some advice?

I mean, I know one of my sons is excited to wear the mask because he's getting braces. So no one's going to know he has braces. Like, trying to look for the upside I guess.

But how do you get them comfortable with the mask-wearing?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Yes. I think adults are more stuck on this than kids are, to tell you the truth.


ROMANS: I mean, you look at these parents at some of these -- at these meetings with school boards, and the parents are just losing it over this.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: I know, and the kids are embarrassed --

ROMANS: Right.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: -- in so many cases, to see their parents acting like this.

So I really think as adults, let's try to normalize this. Let's try to set the example. I think let's not judge each other for wearing masks -- that happens a lot. And you don't know when a parent might be modeling for their child -- the wearing of the mask.

And kids -- you know, I'd really say this parents. Kids are not born knowing how to put pants on and a t-shirt on. We teach them.

ROMANS: Right.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: In that same way we can do this with masks. We have been doing this.

ROMANS: John Hopkins data shows that COVID cases are up 300 percent compared to Labor Day last year. That's really scary because last year in my school district we weren't sending the kids back to school. Now we are. It's going to happen. They're going to learn in person.

Are you concerned about kids spreading COVID in school? And are you concerned about the hospital systems, in some cases, too overwhelmed with unvaccinated people that the routine things you need for your kid, you might be waiting?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: I am very concerned. And I'm concerned not just about COVID, but we are about to hit flu season as well. Last year we skipped it because everyone was home. This year, I don't think we will. I don't know that for a fact, of course, but I don't think we will.

So I'm concerned that we're going to have two pandemics here if we don't take this very seriously -- if we don't -- if we don't vaccinate everyone who qualifies for a vaccine for both COVID-19 and the flu, right? And then all of these other things that we have been doing to try to get kids back safely are not even going to matter if we have all of this spread and if we don't control it right now.

So, yes, I'm very concerned.

ROMANS: We heard Dr. Anthony Fauci say this week that the best way to protect the vulnerable population of children is for all the adults around them to be vaccinated. I assume you agree?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: That is exactly right. I 100 percent agree.

And I think if you look at the data, right -- and we should be focusing on numbers and making our decisions based on numbers -- the states that have the lowest vaccination rates are also the states where the kids are getting hospitalized at the highest rates. And the kids who are not vaccinated are 10 times -- teens who are not vaccinated are 10 times as likely to get hospitalized than a child who had been.

ROMANS: But -- and I don't know if you see this in your practice but why is it that so many people can focus on the exception and not the rule, right? We know that the hospitals are full of unvaccinated people. They're not full of people who have the vaccine.


ROMANS: They're full of unvaccinated people. But you hear people who say my sister's uncle said this and they're -- why is -- are you seeing that? Why -- how do we switch that? BRACHO-SANCHEZ: I have been seeing it throughout the pandemic. I think we get stuck on this thinking and then everything that's presented to us, we're sort of like narrow-minded. Nope, I've already made up my mind. My sister's brother's so-and-so told me this and that.

And it's -- now is the time to talk to your physician if you still have questions.

ROMANS: Right.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: If you still are doubting this, talk to your physician, not your sister's brother's cousin who told you something that just isn't anecdote and not true.

ROMANS: Yes, and not something on social media, please. Social media -- I'll say it again -- makes people dumber and meaner.


ROMANS: Talk to your doctor.

All right, thank you. Nice to see you.


ROMANS: And Dr. Anthony Fauci is going to be live on "NEW DAY" next hour.

So thank you so much for that.

All right. Hopes are fading for a fall rebound in business travel. After a strong summer with planes filled with vacation travelers, airlines were counting on the fall being all about the return of business travel to keep their rebound going. Hotels were looking forward to rooms filling up with business travelers. But the rise in cases has caused major companies to delay those plans, meaning fewer in-person meetings and events.

Delta Airlines had said its corporate travel in the U.S. had returned to 40 percent of pre-pandemic level over the summer and hoped for 60 percent by September. But the CEO, Ed Bastian, told "The Wall Street Journal" there's a pause in that growth.

Once again, hospitality and entertainment are concerned about the pandemic. Last month, Southwest Airlines, Airbnb, Disney, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Tyson Foods all warned the variant is hurting business. Southwest Airlines said it saw a decrease in bookings and an increase in cancellations last month.

Last Tuesday, the TSA screened nearly 1.3 million people. That's the lowest level since May.

California firefighters have made progress against this huge and destructive Caldor Fire that's been burning for more than three weeks. Some evacuation orders in and around South Lake Tahoe have now been downgraded to warnings.

But there is no rest for fire crews. Three new blazes have ignited in the state as another heat wave moves in.

CNN's Camila Bernal reports.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New fires, growing concerns, and additional threats. As crews make progress on the Caldor Fire burning in the Lake Tahoe area, three new wildfires in California ignited Sunday as the region gears up for a heat wave.

BRIAN ESTES, CAL FIRE: New fires always take precedence because we don't want another large fire.

BERNAL (voice-over): In Southern California, the Aruba Fire now burning in San Diego County. In Northern California, crews battling a fire in Amador County hear the Caldor Fire. And further north in Placer County, the Bridge Fire forcing evacuations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's got the potential to be a major fire.


BERNAL (voice-over): Meanwhile, in South Lake Tahoe, evacuation orders were downgraded to evacuation warnings nearly a week after flames raced towards the area forcing thousands to flee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a trip, man. You should be grateful for what you have.

BERNAL (voice-over): Meteorologists say parts of California, Nevada, and Arizona will experience temperatures up to 20 degrees above average, with the region possibly seeing temperatures rise up to 115 degrees. A red flag warning is in effect for portions of Oregon and California through Tuesday. Crews fear the hot and dry conditions this week will spread flames even further.


ROMANS: All right. Just ahead on EARLY START, the sudden death of an Emmy-nominated actor known for his role on "THE WIRE."

What's causing a surge -- a price surge for a metal used to make everything from car parts to soda cans?



ROMANS: Power outages still plaguing Louisiana nine days after Ida walloped the state. As of this morning, more than 410,000 customers were without power across Louisiana -- customers. Those are the people whose names are on the bill. That translates to at least a million people. Officials with the power company Entergy say it will be at least 10 more days before electricity is restored to all 48,000 customers now in the dark in Tangipahoa Parish. The company says it suffered catastrophic damage in the storm.

More now from CNN's Martin Savidge in New Orleans.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Good morning, Christine.

Obviously, a much brighter picture here in New Orleans, power-wise. They've got about 70 percent of the power restored.

The picture's not so bright -- excuse the pun -- elsewhere in the state of Louisiana. Still about half a million customers that are without electricity and they could take the longest to get restored. In some cases, some parishes, especially the more remote ones, are being told that it could take until the end of the month.

There is another situation that the city of New Orleans is monitoring closely here and that has to do with a number of buildings in which senior citizens were living. They weren't necessarily nursing homes per se, but these were buildings where it was known that they had a significant elderly population.

Friday, they began checking on the welfare. In a number of the buildings they found deplorable conditions. The temperatures inside were astronomical. There was no electricity and those that relied on medical equipment had no power for those. And then, there was the concern about people trapped in the upper floors because the elevator didn't even work.

Eventually, they searched through 10 buildings, moved hundreds of senior citizens out to shelter, and sadly, found five people who had died. In some cases, the mayor is saying that this looks like neglect and they may be prosecuted -- Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Martin. Thank you so much for that.

Today, another Texas law is back in the spotlight. Governor Greg Abbott is set to sign the controversial voting bill. This is the one that angered, remember, Democratic lawmakers so much that some left the state to block its passage.

Supporters say the measures are needed for the sake of election integrity. Critics claim it's designed to suppress Democratic votes, especially among people of color.

The largest Confederate statue still standing in the United States is about to come down. The Robert E. Lee statue, currently on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, will be removed tomorrow. The decision was authorized by all three branches of state government, including a unanimous decision last week by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

One week to go until Californians vote to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom or keep him in office. If Newsom is able to stave off the Republican- backed recall effort, much of the credit will likely go to organized labor.

Here's CNN's Kyung Lah.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: Let's vote no, no, hell, no. No, no, hell no. No, no, hell no.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a sweltering Labor Day weekend, California Gov. Gavin Newsom rallied the foot soldiers who fought for him before, leaning on organized labor to keep him on the job.

NEWSOM: We embrace unions. We embrace social justice, racial justice, economic justice. All of those things are at risk if we don't turn out the vote on September 14th.

LAH (voice-over): That's the last day to vote in the Republican- backed recall of the Democratic governor.

The Los Angeles Federation of Unions says it spent $2 million to protect Newsom, calling half a million voters.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fine. We're doing good.

LAH (voice-over): Union member Hugo Soto-Martinez, son of immigrants, has helped knock on 60,000 doors in Los Angeles, aiming to hit 100,000 before voting ends.

SOTO-MARTINEZ: Organized labor has been key in making sure that this becomes a deep blue state. So the valleys of the state reflect the union valleys, and those are workers, those are immigrants. Those are people who work for a paycheck in this country.

LAH (voice-over): National Democrats boosting Gov. Newsom this holiday weekend have called the recall an attack on unions, from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren --

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): SEIU -- all the unions are in the house.

LAH (voice-over): -- to Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.


LAH (voice-over): The Newsom campaign says unions have contributed $14 million to fight his recall, a worthy investment, believes union member Shavon Moore-Cage. SHAVON MOORE-CAGE, AFCSME LOCAL 36: I am for Gavin Newsom. And so

whatever I have to do to keep him in office, to keep the people empowered, I'm going to do that.

Larry Elder doesn't represent everybody. He doesn't represent all colors and all nationalities. He may say he does but his action speaks louder than words.


LAH (voice-over): Republican challenger and conservative radio host Larry Elder has slammed the union money backing the governor, especially the California Teachers Association.

LARRY ELDER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: The number one obstacle to school choice is the teachers union. What's the number-one funder of my opponent? Teachers union.

LAH (voice-over): It's a criticism the governor brushes off, especially with just over a week to go before the election.

NEWSOM: It's about energy. It's about boots on the ground, door- knocking. It's about text messaging. It's just really about turnout and labor knows how to turn out.

LAH (voice-over): Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.


ROMANS: All right, Kyung. Thank you for that.

Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Looking at markets around the world, you can see Asian shares have closed higher and Europe has opened down a little bit. On Wall Street, stock index futures this hour, barely moving here.

You know, investors largely shrugged off a disappointing August jobs report last week. Later this week we'll find out how many job openings there were in July. We know there were a record 10.1 million job openings in June. Businesses are struggling to hire enough workers to meet the demands of a reopening economy.

A coup in Guinea has driven aluminum prices to the highest level in more than a decade. Guinea, a major supplier of the main ore used to produce aluminum. Aluminum prices have been -- already been rising this year because of an increase in demand and because of production cuts in China.

Higher prices come as policymakers are already worried about inflation. Aluminum, of course, is a key component in a range of products from cars to energy systems.

El Salvador is preparing to become the first country in the world to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender. Starting today, Bitcoin will be used along with the U.S. dollar. El Salvador now owns -- holds 400 Bitcoins. That's worth nearly $21 million. The adoption, though, is facing some challenges. Social organizations have asked the Salvadorian government to repeal the decision, largely because of Bitcoin's volatility.

All right, actor Michael K. Williams has died.




ROMANS: The Emmy-nominated Williams was best known for the roles of Chalky White on HBO's "BOARDWALK EMPIRE" and as Omar Little on HBO's "THE WIRE."

Williams' body was found in his Brooklyn, New York apartment on Monday. A law enforcement source tells CNN investigators found drug paraphernalia near his body. Williams had been open about his struggles with addiction.

Michael K. Williams was 54 years old.

A Massachusetts man who lost his wife and two children in a fire 20 years ago saved a neighbor from her own house fire this weekend. Mark Collum heard the neighbors screaming for help at 5:00 a.m. Sunday and quickly dialed 911.


MARK COLLUM, SAVED NEIGHBOR FROM FIRE: I heard "Fire! Fire!" I just threw my clothes on and just, out of reaction, saw her in the kitchen milling around -- flames billowing out the back, smoke filling up the kitchen. And I just grabbed her and just took her out.

You know, I had a little smoke in my lungs -- same with her. So we just kind of took her outside and things worked out well, thank God.


ROMANS: All right. Back in 2001, Collum's wife Lisa and their two daughters, ages four and five months -- they died in a house fire. Collum, a commercial fisherman, was away at the time.

The neighbor he saved Sunday, Deb Shanahan, is expected to make a full recovery. The cause of Sunday's fire under investigation.

All right, 53 minutes past the hour this Tuesday morning. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans. Laura is back tomorrow. "NEW DAY" is next.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Tuesday, September seventh. I'm Brianna Keilar. And Jim Sciutto here today in for John Berman.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be here.

KEILAR: America is bracing for a critical few months in the fight against the pandemic and the fate of bills that could forever change the country. This morning, the Biden administration is gearing up for fights that could shape the outcome of next year's congressional elections.

From reining in coronavirus to a Capitol Hill battle over infrastructure, the president's legacy is very much on the line. It has been a summer of relentless challenges, including the chaotic exit from Afghanistan, infighting within the Democratic Party, and a series of natural disasters.

SCIUTTO: So in a matter of hours, President Biden will leave the White House to tour the damage in New York and New Jersey after the remnants of Hurricane Ida brought just historic catastrophic flooding that killed at least 52 people. People drowning in their cars, in their homes.

And children across the country -- they're back in school today at a time when the seven-day average of new coronavirus infections is more than 300 percent higher than Labor Day last year. Dr. Fauci will join us shortly.

But we begin with a preview of what to watch with the pandemic and in Washington as we exit just a tumultuous summer and head into the fall.

Let's bring in CNN's Brynn Gingras.


There are school districts across the country with kids already in class and others, like New York City, set to begin in the coming week.

The goal, of course, is to get as many kids back in the classroom as possible while keeping COVID cases down. The Delta variant is still dominating and we know there are vastly different rules governing school districts all across this country. So that's why health experts advise to achieve that goal, stick to the science.

The CDC encourages mask use in all schools to protect students, though what we're seeing is a mixed bag of mask adherence across the country -- some requiring masks, others not.