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Couple Hit by Breakthrough COVID; SIAC Mandates Vaccines for Athletes; Biden and CDC Consider Mask Guidance. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 08:30   ET



ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: County here in the state. FEMA has sent search teams to help increase the rate of vaccination here in the state. But essentially you get the sense from health officials that the race is on to get people vaccinated before this gets much worse.


JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: For sure. Well, you took us into the truth debate and brotherhood of the barber shop.

Ed Lavandera, thank you very much.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: With new COVID infections rising around the country, reports of breakthrough cases among the fully vaccinated, while rare, can be worrisome. My next guest and his family are going through this right now. And in a tweet he wrote this. He said, my wife, our 10-year-old daughter and I all have COVID. My wife and I are breakthrough cases. We're not in the hospital, but it's no picnic either. Be careful out there, friends.

Adam Rothman with us now to talk about this.

Adam, thank you so much for joining us.

Just tell us, you know, how you're feeling and what your breakthrough cases for you and your wife have been like.

ADAM ROTHMAN, HAS BREAKTHROUGH COVID INFECTION: Yes, thanks for -- thanks for having me. It's good to be here and to be able to share our story.

You know, it's -- right now I'm feeling OK. I have a little bit of -- a little bit of a cough and congestion, but it's not as bad as it was.

We've been dealing with this for about a week now. My 10-year-old daughter tested positive last Tuesday. And my wife and I, who are both vaccinated, developed symptoms a couple of days later.

You know, we had a mild fever, congestion, runny nose, cough, fatigue, headaches, you know, all of -- all of that stuff that people associate with COVID. And most recently she and I have both lost our sense of smell.

But our daughter is doing a lot better and I think we're coming out of it, too.

KEILAR: So she had lesser symptoms. You think that you contracted it from her because she tested positive first. Do you have any idea where her exposure might have been?

ROTHMAN: We really don't. She and I had been traveling the week before, so there are any number of places that she could have picked it up.

We are careful. We follow all the masking guidelines in public places and transportation. But especially with unvaccinated people, you know, it sneaks through.

I don't want to say for sure that we got it from her. We could have all gotten it from -- some other place. But certainly, you know, being home with her and her having symptoms, you know, we had sustained exposure to somebody who was, you know, symptomatic.


ROTHMAN: And, you know, I don't know, does the vaccine protect against that? Not in our case, which was a little bit disconcerting to learn firsthand.

KEILAR: Yes. Look, directly or indirectly, you probably would think it came from the same place, right, as you were all having this -- this family spread.

ROTHMAN: Yes. Yes.

KEILAR: When you reflect back on being vaccinated, you know some people are saying, look at these breakthrough cases. Why are people even getting vaccinated? What do you say to those people?

ROTHMAN: Yes, I understand their perspective, and I think they're drawing the premature conclusion. Vaccines do generally seem to be effective and have been really instrumental in helping us get a handle on this. But, you know, I think that people need to understand that they may not be 100 percent effective.

But I would say that if more people were vaccinated, it's less likely that our daughter would have gotten the disease. And being vaccinated, we hope, has helped keep my wife and me out of the hospital. So I think, you know, maybe we're a success story of the vaccine, not a failure.

KEILAR: Yes, I know it may not feel like it when you don't have your sense of smell.


KEILAR: But, look, we're talking to you right now from your house, which we are very, very happy to be doing and we hope that you're very much on the upswing.

Adam Rothman, thank you so much.

ROTHMAN: Thanks. Thanks for having us.

KEILAR: Mandatory vaccines for some college athletes. We're going to talk to the official behind the plan, next.

AVLON: And First Lady Jill Biden in Tokyo on the eve of the Olympics. More on what's happening there just ahead.



AVLON: An NCAA Division II Conference is requiring that all student athletes provide proof of vaccination before being allowed to play on their teams. The commissioner of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, made up of 15 historically black colleges and universities, said the decision was made because, quote, student athletes are a particularly vulnerable stakeholder group, who, as a result of their athletic participation, are required to travel off campus and compete against and interact with student athletes on other campuses. These athletic related activities not only increase the risk of exposure to our student athletes, but also increase the risk of exposure to their classmates and other campus stakeholders once those athletes return to campus.

Joining me now is the commissioner of the SIAC, Greg Moore.

Greg, it's good to see you, sir.

Your conference is made up of colleges and states that are really seeing a serious uptick of COVID cases and hospitalizations, particularly among the unvaccinated population. So do you think -- is your decision a reflection of the fact that you think it's irresponsible not to require a vaccine mandate at this point for students?


For our league it was really about risk mitigation. I mean, to your point, you know, we're looking at this delta variant in a very real sense as being a pandemic of the unvaccinated. You're looking at 80 percent of the new cases are delta variant manifestations, and 97 percent of the people who have contracted that, between 95 and 99 percent actually, are unvaccinated individuals.

AVLON: That's right.

MOORE: So when you look at our college campuses, you know, most of the -- the most at risk cohort of students are going to be student athletes who travel and get on buses, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and, to your earlier point, they're traveling throughout a region of the country -- because our league consists of 15 historically black colleges and universities, located throughout the southeast.


We're traveling in a region of the country that has the highest percentage of unvaccinated individuals. So it's really about risk mitigation and trying to protect these student athletes.

AVLON: For sure.

I wonder, given that, I wonder what the pushback or reaction you've received from the student athletes or their parents, given that your conference does include Tuskegee University.

MOORE: Well, that's a good point. I mean, let's be honest, look, I understand there is a hesitancy and a culture of reluctance with respect to the African-American community in a large measure that has been the by-product of, you know, incidents like the Tuskegee experiments. But let's be clear what the Tuskegee permanents were. That was medical abuse camouflaged as research. This vaccine is trying to protect people.

AVLON: I think we just lost Greg Moore's audio, unfortunately.

But I think that the point he is making is very important. Also, the Tuskegee experiment's corrupt (ph) denial of vaccinations.

KEILAR: We still have him. I -- actually, I can still hear him.

AVLON: You can?

KEILAR: I can still hear him. So I think that actually --

AVLON: Then I'm going to hand it over to you.

MOORE: Can you hear me?

KEILAR: All right, Greg, can you continue?

MOORE: Yes, I mean, let's -- let's be clear, you mentioned the Tuskegee experiments. But, you know, and -- as you know, Tuskegee is one of the universities, one of the schools in our league. Tuskegee experiments was medical abuse camouflaged as medical research. The vaccine is the opposite of that. The vaccine is trying to help people and protect people, protect people from getting -- mitigate the risk of getting sick, mitigate the risk of infection, mitigate the risk of hospitalization and mitigate the risk of death.

And one thing is important to realize. Our league is comprised of historically black colleges and universities. You're not going to find a cohort of presidents who care more deeply about the health and safety of their students and student athletes than our presidents. One of the hallmarks of historically black colleges and universities is the personal and intimate relationships that the presidents have with their students.

So the notion that any one of our presidents would do anything that would undermine the health and safety of students is contrary to the reason why our schools even exists.

KEILAR: Yes. And, Greg, we certainly hope that that is heard loud and clear. You are a very good messenger of this, and we certainly appreciate you being with us today.

MOORE: Thank you guys for having me.

KEILAR: An Alabama doctor is sharing how she has made progress changing people's minds on vaccinations, issuing -- issuing a warning to those who are still hesitant to get their dose before it's too late.

Dr. Brittany Cobia (ph) says she's been admitting young, healthy people into the hospital with serious COVID infections and all but one of her COVID patients are unvaccinated. Some of them are dying.

She made an emotional plea on FaceBook Sunday. Dr. Cobia saying of her patients, I've made a lot of progress encouraging people to get vaccinated lately. Do you want to know how? I'm admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections. One of the last things they do before they're intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I'm sorry but it's too late. A few days later, when I call time of death, I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same. They cry. They tell me they didn't know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn't get sick. They thought it was just the flu, but they were wrong, and they wished they could go back, but they can't. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives.

And she goes on to say that she wants people to bring her questions so that she can tell them everything she knows. She says, it's not too late, but some day it might be.

Alabama, of course, has a very low vaccination rate in the country. Only 34 percent of its population fully vaccinated. State officials saying 96 percent of residents there who died of COVID since April were not fully vaccinated.

AVLON: That just breaks your heart.

KEILAR: Completely.

AVLON: That -- hearing your read it makes you tear up because these are young people who have bought into the disinformation and they die and they beg for a redo, and it's too late and their families then are left with nothing.



AVLON: And it's all avoidable. This is an avoidable tragedy right now. KEILAR: And I would say that for people out there who are propagating

this disinformation about this, think about that. Think about what happens to people who believe it.


KEILAR: Who make the mistake of believing it. Their loved ones die.

AVLON: This is not a game. It's not about politics. This is about people's lives.

KEILAR: Ahead, we're going to make a turn here.

CNN is live on the ground in Tokyo. The Olympics ahead of us, but also COVID the big topic there.


KEILAR: The Biden White House and the CDC are now talking about revising mask recommendations for vaccinated Americans as the delta variant spreads.

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joining us now from Tokyo on the eve of the Olympic opening ceremony where COVID has very much impacted the games.


We're going to talk about the games here in a moment.

First, though, Sanjay, look, this is not what people want to hear, right? If they're vaccinated, they're hoping that they were able to get back to normal. And I wonder if that's going to inform what we're going to hear possibly from the administration. What do you think they might be considering here?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, you're absolutely right, first of all. I mean I think it would be a blow to the psyche of our progress with COVID. And the CDC's official word is that they're not planning on changing their recommendations at this point, their guidance at this point.

But, look, we see the numbers. We see what's informing some of these decisions.

I want to show you a couple of these graphs that we just put together to give you an idea of the trend lines here.

It was May 13th when the mask guidance changed, where they basically said, if you're vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask anymore. You can see the numbers went down overall for a period of time, but then they started to creep back up again right around the time, beginning of July, when the delta variant became the dominant strain in this country. You can see what's happened since then.

Keep in mind, look at -- let's look at hospitalizations. Those were coming down. Those are critical, very important, because with regard to cases, that's really informed by how much you're testing. When it comes to hospitalizations, that tells a truer story here.

And look there. Almost immediately after the mask guidance changed, you started to see the numbers creep up. Add to that again, beginning of July, delta becomes dominant strain. Much more contagious, and the numbers take off.

So, you know, it may be a situation where localities, such as L.A., you saw that, the American Academy of Pediatrics, you heard what they have to say, they're both leaning into mask wearing more universally. Other counties may do the same. Again, the CDC, for now, says no changes, but that may change depending on how these numbers go.

AVLON: Sanjay, President Biden did give parents some hope when he talked about the timeline for vaccinations for kids under 12.

Take a listen.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: When will children under 12 be able to get vaccinated?


Soon in the sense that I do not tell any scientist what they should do. I do not interfere. And so they are doing -- they are doing the examinations now, the testing now, and making the decision now.


AVLON: Sanjay, what are your thoughts on that?

GUPTA: I have been following this very closely and talking to the scientists involved with these trials. I think it's going to break down into three age groups, five to 11, two to five, six months and two years old.

The five to 11 age group will be the next likely to have a vaccine authorized. I think that data is probably going to be submitted early September. It's hard to say a little bit because they have to not only get the safety data and the efficacy data, but they've got to get the right dose as well. That takes some time. So early September they will submit the data, but maybe late September that might be an authorization there.

For two to five-year-olds, maybe, you know, later into the fall, early winter. And then the end of the year for the youngest age group. That's what it's looking like now if all the data sort of holds up and progresses as what we've seen so far.

KEILAR: Two to five year olds, I'm all over that, Sanjay, right?.

AVLON: I'm looking at the other age group, that's where my little ones are. GUPTA: I bet you are.


KEILAR: I want to ask you because, look, we're seeing more athletes there where you are, they're unable to compete because they have contracted coronavirus, some of them vaccinated, some of them maybe not.

You spoke with the IOC's medical adviser. Tell us about that.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, this is a -- it's an anxious time for these guys. I mean they're trying to do the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic. Brian McCloskey is the chief adviser to the IOC from a medical standpoint. I've talked to him a few times now. I wanted to talk to him specifically today about thresholds. People have said, hey, look, might the Olympics be canceled? I think that's really, really unlikely.

But listen to how he sort of described the thresholds of what they're looking for.


GUPTA: Is there a criteria by which you would start to become concerned?

DR. BRIAN MCCLOSKEY, CHAIR OF INDEPENDENT EXPERT PANEL FOR THE IOC: Mostly what we look at is changes in patterns. So to say if we started to see infection in people who weren't part of a close contact group, if we started to see a rising number of cases, if we started to see the cases doubling more rapidly than we thought, and particularly if we started to see cases appearing in the local population that seemed to be linked back into the village or vice versa.


GUPTA: It's not an easy task. But it's that last point, guys, that I think is the most critical. They're doing really extensive contact tracing. Ninety-one cases, but what they're really trying to figure out, are the -- are any of those cases now transmitting to the local population here in Japan? Is it affecting Tokyo or Japan overall? And what Dr. McCloskey says, again, based on very careful contact tracing, the answer is no.

And if you do the math on the number of positive cases versus the really extensive testing they're doing -- everyone's getting tested every day in the village -- then the positivity rate is well below 1 percent at this point.


So much lower than the rest of the country.

They want to keep an eye on that last point, though. Again, is the transmission leaving the village, affecting the local community? If it is, that would be a problem for McCloskey and others.

KEILAR: That sure would be.

Sanjay, thank you.

AVLON: Thank you.

All right, just ahead, more on the CNN town hall with President Biden. What he told a business owner about the labor shortage in the U.S.


KEILAR: A lot of people found solace in nature during the pandemic and bird watching actually gained some new fans. Meet a woman who is making it easier for the mobility challenged to participate in today's "Human Factor."


VIRGINIA ROSE, FOUNDER, BIRDABILITY: I had just turned 14. I was riding my horse. He ran under some wires and I fell off, broke my back, and I've been in a wheelchair ever since.

It wasn't until much later in my life I realized that being in nature was providing something for me that I had never had before.

Spending three and four hours birding, every time I went out, I was not lonely. I was completely absorbed.

My name is Virginia Rose. I'm the founder of Birdability. It is a foundation whose purpose is to make sure that we are identifying the trails that are accessible. I just am not sure that people who have mobility challenges know they can do this. And I wanted them to have the same joy and the same empowerment that I had had.

When you go to the Birdability map, you will see a place where you can take the survey. You will run through the list of all the different access considerations. That site will be on the map for the next person who is disabled looking for a place to bird.

We now have over 500 birding sites. It's critical for people who have mobility challenges to be able to access the outdoors.

I think they're going to find themselves there the way I did.



KEILAR: That is awesome.

AVLON: That's great. Birdability.

KEILAR: I love that.

AVLON: I love it. KEILAR: And the soothing sounds of nature, too, in that piece. You can

see why it helps her so much and will help .