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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

New Vaccine Requirements Will Apply to 100 Million Americans; Biden, China's Spoke Thursday Amid Tense Relationship; Kentucky Hospitals Pushed to Their Limits Amid Virus Surge; First International Passenger Flight Since U.S. Withdrawal Leaves Kabul. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Friday, September 10th. It is 5:00 a.m. here in New York.

Thanks for getting an early start with me. I'm Laura Jarrett. Christine has the day off.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We begin this morning with President Biden rolling out tough and sweeping new vaccination requirements for federal workers, employees at big companies, and health care staff. The new vaccination mandates could apply to as many as 100 million people, nearly two-thirds of the U.S. workforce.

Now, the president said vaccinated Americans are growing frustrated with the 80 million people who have not had their shots and are still fueling the pandemic.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The vaccine has FDA approval, over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We've been patient but our patience is wearing then and your refusal has cost all of us. So please do the right thing.


JARRETT: New rules require workers at businesses with more than 100 employees to either be vaccinated or tested once week. But Dr. Anthony Fauci says he would have gone even further.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, PRESIDENT BIDEN'S CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: The president is being somewhat moderate in his demand if you want to call it that in that there are some people who really don't want to get vaccinated but they don't want it lose their job. You have to give them an off lane. And the off lane is if you get

tested frequently enough and you find out that you are positive, you won't come to work and infect other people. So it is somewhat of a compromise there. Myself, I would make it vaccinate or not. But he was trying to be moderate in what his pronouncement was.


JARRETT: CNN's Jasmine Wright is live for us in Washington.

Jasmine, good morning. You heard Dr. Fauci say the president is trying to be moderate there, but this is the most aggressive action yet when it comes to vaccine mandates. Help us understand what it was like behind the scenes with the White House trying to have some sort of balance in this plan.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, well, that word balance is the right word because the reality is that any prolonged resurgence of this COVID-19 pandemic impacts what the White House wants to do. It stalls the economy, it takes away from their focus on social issues, other parts of president Biden's agenda. And now that growing number of Americans have said that the messaging from the White House and CDC is unclear on the way forward on the pandemic, it impacts the direct success of this White House.

So that is why you hear President Biden taking that harsher tone on unvaccinated Americans, that is why you see him taking this enhanced step what could be his most forceful step he's taken thus far trying to get more shots in people's arms specifically that Labor Department portion of this new plan. As understand, it could affect up to 100 million workers.

Take a listen to President Biden in his own words describing it yesterday at the White House.


BIDEN: The Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees that together employ over 80 million workers to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated. Or show a negative test at least once a week. The bottom line, we're going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co- workers.


WRIGHT: So that is just one of the largest tenants of this plan, but it would also mandate vaccines for all federal workers, contractors with no testing option, mandate vaccines for educators in federally funded programs, for workers at facilities that accept Medicare, Medicaid funding and call on entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or testing.

Now, Laura, officials behind the scenes tell CNN that they recognize that large employers could really mount challenges in court because of these new actions. But they hope that this provides businesses with kind of a federal cover to mandate vaccines for their employees as the White House is starting to restart and re-jump basically their attack plan on COVID trying to get this under control so that they can focus on other thing. But remember, this is something that President Biden over month and months has staked his claim on saying that he could control -- Laura.

JARRETT: Yeah, it certainly seems like this is the push to try to get private businesses to do what they may have already wanted to do but just need the legal cover as you say. Thank you so much for that.

So that is the big news on COVID. On foreign policy, we've learned the president spoke with China's President Xi Jinping just a few hours ago.


It was only the second time that they have spoken by phone in seven months. The White House says they talked about a broad range of issues.

CNN's Steven Jiang is live for us in Beijing.

Steven, what else do we know about this call? What else do they talk about?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Laura, we have learned from a senior U.S. official that the tone was respectful, familiar and candid during their 90-minute phone call and neither apparently was trying to lecture the other and they kept referring back to their previous encounters recalling old conversations and old stories.

So this is in sharp contrast it what we have seen during some of the more recent official meetings between the two sides when things became so contentious, it actually spilled out into the open. So U.S. officials say this is why it was notable because to allowed the two leaders to have a private moment to discuss a whole range of things without the Chinese having to play for the press.

But, of course, one phone call is not going to magically resolve all the issue and there are so many contentious issues, but it is likely that it will help set a new tone for not only the overall relationship but also working level meetings.

And U.S. officials actually have become increasingly frustrated over the lack of substance and progress in their communications with their Chinese counterparts and Mr. Biden apparently understands this very well. And that is one of the reasons he got on this call because with Xi Jinping's power, one word from him could instantly change how Chinese diplomats conduct themselves. And it is during these working meetings where a lot of these things are being discussed in detail.

And so, that's why at least from Washington's perspective, it is important to keep these open lines of communication and substantive dialogue given how high the stakes are -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right. Steven, thank you so much for that. Appreciate it.

Just ahead for you, CNN goes inside a Kentucky hospital where COVID is taking a physical and emotional toll. That's next.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hard for them to realize, oh, you mean this is the end, do you really mean it is the end? It is our community, people that we know, we know people they are related to.




JARRETT: This morning, Kentucky hospitals are overwhelmed, causing what the governor causes devastation. One unvaccinated man who has been in the hospital for 19 days struggling to breathe now says he plans to get the vaccine and he's urging his friends and family do the same.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has more.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Billy Couch (ph) didn't think much about COVID until he got it.

BILLY COUCH, COVID PATIENT: Don't mess around because this ain't a joke. This is not fun and games. I've been here so long I want to go home. But I can't go home because I can't breathe still yet. This is not a game at all.

MARQUEZ: In the hospital, 19 days now, the unvaccinated 42-year-old isn't sure how he picked up the virus. He toughed it out at home for eight days before being admitted.

How serious is COVID?

COUCH: It's bad to the bone. I recommend everybody wash their hands, do what they got to do, stay home, stay social distanced because it's bad. Trust me, it's bad.

MARQUEZ: Until you had it, did you think it was bad?


MARQUEZ: What did you think it was?

COUCH: I didn't pay attention to be honest. I do now, and get your shot.

MARQUEZ: Wanda Colmes (ph) manages the nursing staff in the COVID ICU at Appalachian Regional Healthcare's largest facility in Hazard, Kentucky, a nurse for 30 years, the job never tougher. WANDA COLMES, NURSE: It's been very, very hard and I get emotional

because it is our community. ICU nurses work really hard. They work very hard every day, but you can usually see a difference, so you work hard and you see a difference and that's okay. You don't care that you're tired, you've made a difference.

So, with this, they still work just as hard, harder. And it really hurts when you don't see a difference.

MARQUEZ: Just when they thought they were through the worse of the pandemic it's come roaring back, patients younger, sicker, harder to treat.

COLMES: The family, you know, it's hard for them to realize, oh, you mean, this is the end, oh, this really is the end. That's what's really hard on the nurses is the emotional part, too.

MARQUEZ: In the COVID ICU here in Hazard, every bed taken by those suffering from severe cases of COVID-19, every patient intubated except for one.

What is this virus doing to places like Hazard, Kentucky?

CAROLYN EDDINGTON, REGISTERED NURSE IN COVID-19 UNIT: It's destroying us. We're -- I mean everybody's getting it. Everybody's getting sick. Everybody's -- we're just seeing a lot right now.

MARQUEZ: Appalachian Regional Health Care has 13 facilities across eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Its entire system now overwhelmed by COVID.


MARQUEZ: Zero across 13 facilities?

BRAMAN: Across 13 facilities. We have zero ICU beds available. We have 35 patients waiting in our ERs for beds.

MARQUEZ: Today, Appalachian Regional Healthcare has three -- three regular beds available across its entire system. They've cleared space and made room for 200 beds that sit empty unable to staff them.

BRAMAN: We have applied for FEMA disaster medical teams at multiple of our hospitals. Our understanding is that right now Louisiana is in dire need, and so most of their teams are there. So we are on the list. And once they have availability we hope that we'll be able to get support.

MARQUEZ: The hospital system needs 170 nurses today to open up extra beds. Nurses now working longer hours and doubling up on patients just to keep up.

RIKKI CORNETT, DIRECTOR OF RESPIRATORY THERAPY: One respiratory should comfortably have four ventilator patients, but right now I have seven to eight ventilators per respiratory patients. MARQUEZ: Here in Hazard, patients are coming in younger and sicker

than nurses have ever seen.

JASON HIGGS, REGISTERED NURSE IN COVID-19 UNIT: We're seeing much younger patients than we did before. We're seeing patients from 20 years old up to 75 years old. So, it attacks everyone. It's not just limited to one age group.

JD JONES, REGISTERED NURSE IN COVID-19 UNIT: This year, it doesn't matter. I've had several patients under 20 years old.

MARQUEZ: Under 20. How sick?

JONES: Very sick actually for their age.

MARQUEZ: Miguel Marquez, CNN, Hazard, Kentucky.


JARRETT: Thank you for that category.

And still ahead for you, CNN is live on the ground in Kabul where the Taliban has allowed some Americans to leave on a chartered flight.

And the new rule mandating vaccines at the second largest school district in the U.S.



JARRETT: More than 100 foreigners including Americans flown out of Kabul's airport Thursday in what the U.S. is calling a sign of Taliban flexibility. A source tells CNN that among passengers on the charter flight that landed in Doha, Qatar, where about 200 foreigners the Taliban cleared to leave the country.

International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is live in Kabul for us this morning.

Nick, good morning.

The U.S. State Department says that it shows that the Taliban are cooperative but I have to imagine it is more complicated than that.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It is. What Secretary Blinken said is that he complimented the Taliban on their actions facilitating these flights. It is not something that appears to be happening in direct U.S./Taliban communications.

Secretary Blinken said that it was being done -- the United States is in regular communication with regional partner and I think that we saw yesterday that Qatar played a big role, it was their charter aircraft that flew in here from Doha to get all these people out of Kabul.

He also said that this was also showed that the United States concrete commitment to U.S. citizens here whom they were in regular contact with those that wanted to leave.

Of course, there is a continuing expectation and Secretary Blinken said this as well, that the Taliban should keep good on their agreement to let all those with the right paperwork get out of the country if -- particularly if they were working with U.S. forces or U.S. diplomats here in the Afghanistan, that if they have the right paperwork, they should get out of the country. But yes this, is not direct face-to-face, as we understand it. It's being done with regional partners.

JARRETT: Nic, while I have you. Take a step back for me. You know, tomorrow is 9/11. You have covered this story for the better part of 20 years. I understand that you were actually in Kabul on 9/11.

Look at that. Wow. You look just the same. I wonder what are your reflections on how much has changed and perhaps maybe even more importantly what has stayed the same?

ROBERTSON: Where are we today? There is a massive breakdown in trust right now we talk about going forward between the Taliban and the United States. We hear from the secretary of state and from others that they hear the Taliban words but they want to see their actions. It is the same on the Taliban side and this was our experience driving in here yesterday. There is a huge trust deficit. What are we the Western reporters doing here, what are we going to say, can the Taliban really trust the United States on their commitments?

And I think that that is why we saw them stand firm on that August 31 deadline. When I look around the city, there were lights last night all across the hill over there.

Twenty years ago before 9/11, this city was much more in the dark ages. It was dark. This building wasn't here, that tall building behind me wasn't here. The city has a much more prosperous feel to it. The roads have been built across the country. That is really thanks to the U.S. engagement here, U.S. tax dollars.

But, you know, underlying the sort of physical and economic change for the better was of course changes for human rights, improvement, the rights for women, 25 percent almost to be part of the Constitution to be in the government. Now, with the Taliban here, it's a bit like going back, stepping back in time to the Taliban days, you know, in the 1990s. They say that it will be different. So far, the government isn't any different to the past.

So, you know, you see some positives but you also see re-enactment of the past and perhaps most striking when I came in the '90s when the Taliban took control of this city in '96 when I was first here, we used to go around the former Soviet military bases here where the Soviets were pushed out of Afghanistan, and you looked at the way that they had failed here.


When we go around now just yesterday, looking at former U.S. bases, and I've taken Black Hawk helicopter rides and seeing the Taliban flag just strikes you the massive fundamental shift that has happened. And we don't know how it's all going to play out.

JARRETT: We don't know how all is going to play out, but we have certainly benefited with you there leading the coverage on this. So, I appreciate it and I appreciate you being there for us today, Nic. Thanks.

Coming up for you, the Biden Justice Department takes on Texas in the battle over abortion and the stiff new penalties now in effect for refusing to mask up on planes.