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CDC Documents Indicate Danger Posed by Delta Variant of COVID- 19 to Americans; New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy Interviewed on Steps State is Taking to Reduce Coronavirus Spread; Republican Representative Liz Cheney Joins Bipartisan Committee to Investigate January 6th Capitol Riots. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 30, 2021 - 08:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now is "Washington Post" health policy reporter Yasmeen Abutaleb. She is one of the journalists who first reported on these leaked CDC documents. Yasmeen, I've read a lot, reported a lot on COVID over the last year-and-a-half. This may be the report that has scared me the most, I'm going to be honest. This is scary stuff. People need to listen to this because it really does change, I think, what they think they're dealing with. And one of the biggest things is that for vaccinated people, they've sort of felt like, OK, now I'm the end of the line, I'm not going to spread this. But it turns out actually they can.

YASMEEN ABUTALEB, CO-AUTHOR, "NIGHTMARE SCENARIO": Yes, it's a really pivotal moment in the response, I think, because it looked like for the last couple of months things were getting better, we were on the upswing, the CDC relaxed its mask mandates, mask guidance for vaccinated people back in May.

But Delta is a really scary variant. It's the most worrying one that we've seen so far because it's so transmissible, because they now have this data showing vaccinated people have viral loads that are the same as unvaccinated people when they get it. You're still far less likely to get sick, to get hospitalized, to die if you're vaccinated and get infected with it. But the worrying thing is that breakthrough infections are not so rare after all. And that while unvaccinated people are responsible for the vast majority of the spread, vaccinated people can spread it. So it's just a new point in the pandemic.

KEILAR: The administration changed guidance on masking for vaccinated Americans before this information came out. And there's a wonder, well, why did they do that? Wouldn't it be helpful to see the science before the decision? What did you learn?

ABUTALEB: We learned that they were so worried about this data that they felt that they had to get the guidance out even before the data was ready to publish. It should be published today. We should know more about it. There was a lot of frustration from outside scientists and experts saying, if you're saying this is the science, you're basing this new recommendation on then show it to us. But what officials told us that it was so concerning to them that they felt it was worth getting out a couple of days earlier even if it meant the data lagged behind.

KEILAR: Your piece makes the point of, I think, that if you read it, you see the importance of vaccination, that you are going to reduce considerably your chances of being hospitalized or dying from COVID if you are vaccinated. But the administration is very worried that, actually, people will be disincentivized to get vaccinated.

ABUTALEB: Absolutely. And that's a lot of what this document deals with. It does talk about data and outside studies that the agency is using to make these new recommendations. But it also talks about this really complicated public messaging campaign that they face moving forward, and the agency acknowledges we're at a new point in the war, we need to acknowledge that, that they need to emphasize the importance of vaccinations because, just like you said, they prevent hospitalizations, you're far less likely to get severely ill. But they have to simultaneously acknowledge that there are breakthrough infections, they might have been. And they need to figure out how to communicate to people that their individual risk, even if they're vaccinated, will vary depending on a number of factors, like immunocompromised people get less protection, older people get less protection. So they acknowledge it's complicated. They need to revamp their messaging, and they need to figure out how to communicate these things to the public all at once.

KEILAR: I think we've learned that public health is so much about communication -- communicating the science. Not just discovering the science. You write in the piece that the agency must move the goalposts of success in full public view. That's not something that people are going to be inclined to be happy about.

ABUTALEB: It's not. And I think because these vaccines were so effective when we first learned about them, 90 to 95 percent is astonishing. Most vaccines are not that effective. But what a lot of experts and doctors have told us is most vaccines are not 100 percent effective. It doesn't mean you don't get sick at all. The breakthrough infections will happen. We need to be prepared for that. It doesn't mean it's something -- it doesn't mean that they don't work. It just means that they will happen. These are not some bullet proof shield. You still should get vaccinated. You don't want COVID to be a death sentence or something you get seriously ill from. But communicating that to people, especially when there are such high levels of hesitancy already, is really complicated.

KEILAR: Yes, it sure is. The vaccine is so important, though. That's I think what really comes through in your piece, and it's really a must-read. Yasmeen Abutaleb, thank you so much for being with us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And joining us now is Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey. Governor Murphy, this CDC report on the Delta variant, more severe illness than the COVID we've come to know, and it spreads faster than the common cold. So how does this change things for you?

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): It's pretty sobering, John, without question. It only underscores the desperate need we all have to get more people vaccinated. We're among the most vaccinated states in the country. I think we're the most vaccinated big state. [08:05:00]

And while I completely get the fact that it's not bulletproof, it gives you enormous protections. So we just got to hope that the balance of our fellow residents get vaccinated. In the meantime, we have to use common sense. We're strongly recommending masking indoors, particularly when you're in an environment where you're not sure of the vaccine status of those around you. So we're still in the fight for sure.

BERMAN: Strongly recommending is different than requiring. So why not require it?

MURPHY: Listen, at the moment we think strongly recommending in indoor settings when you don't know the vaccine status is sufficient. But frankly, we've got to leave all options on the table. This CDC report, the more we learn about it, the more sobering it is frankly. And so we have to reserve the right to pull any lever that we think we need to pull to keep people healthy and alive.

BERMAN: But right now you're not pulling that lever. Why?

MURPHY: For the time being, at least, we don't think we need to. But that is something that we're going to have to -- if circumstances suggest it, we're going to have to revisit it. It's not as though we've not taken that lever in the past. We were the first state in the country to mandate indoor masks, and we were the last state to have that mandate in place. So we've done it before, and if we need to, we'll do it again.

BERMAN: I'm glad you brought that up. I think that's an important data point there. New jersey has been early and longer than most on mask mandates, but not this time, at least not a statewide requirement yet.

What about schools? I know New Jersey opens in, what, about a month from now. What do you intend to do with schools? The CDC recommends that all students K through 12 wear masks again during school. I know so many parents, so many kids were thrilled at the notion of being able to go back to school unmasked.

MURPHY: Yes, who could blame them, right? Listen, our job number one is to keep our kids, our educators, everybody in the school community safe. That's always been our objective, and it will continue to be. I don't blame folks for wanting certainty. Who could? Frankly, I want certainty. But as we sit here at the end of July, the good news about masking, unlike an HVAC system, we have time on the clock. This virus dictates the terms. We're talking about stuff today, John, that we weren't talking about literally even a week ago. So my gut tells me we're going to use all of the time that we have on the clock to assess what the masking policy ought to be when our kids return in the month or five weeks from now.

BERMAN: What's the decision process? Are you going to leave it up to the county school boards? How will it be handled school to school? MURPHY: Well, at the moment we've got recommendations, but those

recommendations are now from a month ago. And given this virus, that might as well have been, in some respects, a lifetime ago. So we'll continue to watch this like a hawk. We do give our districts latitude on a lot of stuff, but if we feel like we've got to be at a higher level statewide, then we will do that. We've done it before in this pandemic. We'll do it again. And I will say I will not do it with any joy because, as you rightfully suggest, folks don't want to have anything to do with this. But if we have to keep kids safe and to keep educators safe, we will do something as it relates to masks.

BERMAN: So what about some kind of local vaccine requirement like we are seeing now with federal workers? What do you think we should consider, at least, when it comes to this? It could be very effective.

MURPHY: Yes, we're considering a whole series of steps as we speak, and my guess is we'll take the weekend and continue to sus out those potential options. And right now, John, we're focused, as you would probably guess, on the highest risk environments in our state, so focused on health care settings, long term care, veterans' homes, vulnerable communities like prison populations. Those are our highest area of focus right now. And my guess is if we take steps as it relates to mandating on the vaccine side, it will be first and foremost in those types of communities.

BERMAN: Finally, I know you just signed a measure right now aimed at reducing the maternal mortality rate. What did you do there?

MURPHY: Yes, big deal, a game changer. We're the second state in America to require home visitations, up to three of them, in the first three months after delivering, including, sadly, if you've had a still born, and the only state that will require a home visit by a health care professional within the first two weeks of birth. The research shows it is a game changer, not just for infant and maternal mortality, but also for the broader stuff like mental health, food security, domestic violence, abuse concerns. It's a game changer, and I'm incredibly honored we're taking this step.


BERMAN: Governor Phil Murphy from New Jersey, we appreciate you being with us this morning.

MURPHY: Thanks for having me, John.

BERMAN: Just ahead, a Cape Cod tourist haven where at outbreak sparked the CDC to change its mask guidance. We're going to speak to the town manager.

KEILAR: Plus Liz Cheney versus her replacement, Elise Stefanik. New reporting on the tense internal struggle within the Republican Party.

And new revelations overnight from Simone Biles on the mind battle that led her to pull out of Olympic events.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: Later this morning the Senate is expected to take up President Biden's $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, and this bill still has a long way to go in a divided Congress. CNN's Melanie Zanona is with us now on this. I know you have some reporting on a split of a different kind within the Republican Party.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: That's right. This week it was really striking to see Liz Cheney, the former House GOP Conference Chair, and Elise Stefanik, the current House GOP Conference Chair. Liz Cheney was participating in a bipartisan committee hearing to investigate the January 6th attack. She called for a fact-finding mission. She was calling out the whitewashing within her own party, calling out Republicans who have changed their attitudes on January 6th in the weeks and months afterwards.


Meanwhile on the same exact morning, Elise Stefanik was at a press conference not too far away from that hearing room calling Pelosi to blame for the security failures, without evidence even though Pelosi is not responsible for day to day security failures, and laying blame on Democrats for this, eerily using the talking points from the Republican Party.

And I really think that encapsulates the perfect rift in the GOP right now. You know, they're duking it out over the direction of the party, but a sign of where the party is really headed, Elise Stefanik is getting praise from all across the conference whereas Liz Cheney is facing calls to be expelled from the GOP entirely.

KEILAR: Which is weird when you look at their records, because Elise Stefanik has actually been a moderate. I mean, Liz Cheney has much more conservative credentials.

I wonder, I look at Elise Stefanik, it's almost the character development of someone on "Game of Thrones," like an actor on "Game of Thrones."

Tell us about this shift over time.

ZANONA: Yeah, she came up in politics working for Republican establishment figures like Paul Ryan and George Bush, right? But in the Trump years, she really started to shed that moderate image and she embraced her role as the Donald Trump acolyte.

I mean, part of it is her district get more red, but she saw an opportunity and she saw where the political winds were blowing in her own party. And look how it worked out for her. She's now a fund- raising power house. She is now a favorite of Donald Trump's. And now she is a member of GOP's leadership with members telling me she could rise even further in the Republican Party.

KEILAR: It will be interesting to see. Melanie, thank you so much for that.

ZANONA: Thank you. KEILAR: Up next, the tourist hot spot turned COVID hot spot that led scientists to a chilling new discovery about the delta variant.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And tension at the office as workers return. The vaccinated on one side, the unvaccinated on the other.



BERMAN: The data behind an internal CDC document that concludes fully vaccinated people might spread the delta variant at the same rate as unvaccinated people is, according to "The Washington Post", based on a COVID-19 cluster that emerged from July 4th weekend festivities in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

The paper writes, quote: A person working in partnership with the CDC on investigations of the delta variant who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak, said the data came from a July 4th outbreak in Provincetown. Genetic analysis of the outbreak showed that people who were vaccinated were transmitting the virus to other vaccinated people. The person said the data was deeply disconcerting and the canary in the coal mine for scientists who had seen the data.

Joining us now, Provincetown manager Alex Morse, town manager of this coalmine in the case.

Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Alex. What's it like to see this report coming out of "The Washington Post" and elsewhere that the CDC was looking at Provincetown and saying, hey, world, this could happen to you?

ALEX MORSE, PROVINCETOWN TOWN MANAGER: Yeah, we'll be taking a closer look at that throughout the day today. I know the CDC will be providing more information later on. Here in Provincetown, you know, we are happy that we're heading in the right direction, you know, as of this morning, we have 112 active cases here in Provincetown, 108 other people have now exited isolation and are recovering. And our positivity rate is on the decline.

So with the measures we put in place, indoor mask mandate a few days before the CDC followed that call, we think we're heading in the right direction, but obviously concerned about what's happened here the last few weeks.

BERMAN: A hundred and twelve current cases. I guess there were, what, 882 cases overall? That was the last county saw. Is that still accurate?

MORSE: Yeah, that's the overall what they're calling the cluster number. It's not representative of -- doesn't mean there's over 800 people currently with COVID in Provincetown. But in relation to the cluster overall since July 1st through today. It's a much smaller number of folks here in town. The majority of those folks have exited their ten-day isolation in quarantine teen. BERMAN: To be clear, so people know what, 3,000 people live in

Provincetown year round, but over the summer, you know, 60,000 or so on a given day. My niece is working in Provincetown this summer. It is something I care deeply about.

Of the people who were sick, how many -- what percentage were fully vaccinated? When I say sick, I shouldn't say sick. Of the people who were infected, what percentage fully vaccinated?

MORSE: So, 74 percent of the overall cases are among fully vaccinated individuals, and I think that came as a surprise to many folks that -- we were told if you're vaccinated, you're most invincible. I think many people wrongly assume that.

So what's been interesting and I think the silver lining here is that the vaccine is clearly working. It is meant to prevent hospitalization and certainly prevent death. There hasn't been a single death related to the cluster here in Provincetown. There hasn't been a spike in hospitalizations.

And overall, the symptoms are mild or moderate, you know, cold, light flu-like symptoms. And so, that's what we're taking from here, that this delta variant is, yes, highly transmissible, more contagious, more likely to have a breakthrough infection. But you're not -- it's not likely you're going to be hospitalized and you're certainly not going to die.

And so, the delta variant is incredibly dangerous on unvaccinated individuals. While we have a mask mandate in the short term, our longer term layout of this is really through vaccination.

BERMAN: Of the 882, how many hospitalizations, just so people know?

MORSE: There were a total of seven. And again, that doesn't mean seven people are currently hospitalized. A few of those folks have now been discharged.

BERMAN: So that's still well under 1 percent, well under 1 percent if you're keeping track there. So a very small part, they've all been discharged. I appreciate that.

You say you do have mask requirements in place in Provincetown right now. What about vaccine requirements, what about proof of vaccination for some of your establishments?

MORSE: So, that's certainly something we are in active conversations with our local tourism and business folks.


A number of businesses even before this cluster had already required proof of vaccination. And I think many businesses now are beginning to opt in.

So we're working as a town with our board of health and we're exploring a program by which local businesses would get a certification from the board of health. If they're not only requiring their employees to be vaccinated, but they're also requiring proof of vaccination for entry.

You know, Provincetown is a safe place to visit, to have fun and we want people to know we're taking this seriously. And how relieved people feel when they enter a business or an establishment and know that everyone else is vaccinated.

Clearly the impact, the first two weeks of July was a number of unvaccinated individuals.

BERMAN: It's a wonderful feeling being in a place where you know everyone is vaccinated. You feel much safer.

Alex Morse, you've had your work cut out for you this summer. I know this is not the summer you were expecting. We appreciate the work you're doing. We wish you the best of luck going forward.

You and all of us want to see this data coming out of Provincetown as part of the CDC report later today. Thank you.

MORSE: Thank you.

BERMAN: Tension building between the vaccinated and unvaccinated as more workers plan to head back to the office. At least they had planned to go back to the office.

CNN's Christine Romans, our chief business correspondent, joins us with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, the delta variant is really throwing a wrench into some of these return to work plans. It's a potential setback for the fall return to the office for many -- so many companies.

But the message from them, John, is clear. They want you back at your desk and they want you vaccinated.


PORTIA TWIDT, PROGRAM MANAGER: We're producing more work. I can be held accountable virtually. I don't actually need to be physically in the office.

ROMANS (voice-over): Some workers aren't ready yet to give up the flexibility and safety of working from home. But from the employer perspective, it's time.

JAMES MORGAN, CEO, MORGAN STANLEY: If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office. And we want you in the office.

ROMANS: Offices for some Wall Street firms are already nearly full. Other industries preparing to return around Labor Day.

JOHNNY C. TAYLOR, PRESIDENT & CEO, SOCIETY FOR HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT: At its core, we perform best from people in person being human.

ROMANS: This exclusive work from home period maybe coming to an end, whether employees like it or not.

TAYLOR: Employers are saying the struggle with the narrative of this is good for me is that we pay you. So it has to be good for us. It must be mutually beneficial.

ROMANS: This tricky reentry made more difficult by employees questioning the safety of the workplace amid surging cases of the delta variant in the U.S.

TALOR: We're creating this schism within the organization between vaccinated employees and unvaccinated employees. We've literally had reports of employees confronting unvaccinated employees and literally almost getting into physical fights.

ROMANS: A June survey showing 63 percent of workers support vaccine mandates at work.

KATHRYN WYLDE, PRESIDENT & CEO, PARTNERSHIP FOR NEW YORK CITY: Many employers are hearing from their workers, from their employees that they want to know that people are vaccinated.

ROMANS: New York City employers are growing more confident workers will be in the office come September, from 45 percent in March to 62 percent in May.

Willingness to return to the office, though, is uneven.

WYLDE: The young tech employees, it seems to be much tougher to get them back.

ROMANS: The balancing act also important for small businesses.

WYLDE: While there's concern about forcing people to come back or get vaccinated, there is also a lot of concern about the overall economy of the city. A big piece is the commuters working remotely, not patronizing the local stores.

ROMANS: Child care is still a problem until it's clear that schools can reopen in-person for good. Also a concern, the impact on careers of those who don't want to return to the office.

TAYLOR: Two, three, five years from now when they're making promotional decisions, we promote people who we know and with whom we've built relationships.


ROMANS: Be careful what you wish for. That flexibility you're arguing to your boss you should have could hold you back.

But two trends are really important here. This variant is a problem. It could push back the return to work, a time line. But it also reinforces the need for vaccines. These companies are starting to lead, corporate America. The tone has

changed. They are not -- patience is gone for the unvaccinated at the workforce. They want everybody to be vaccinated to make everybody safe.

BERMAN: Yeah, this news about the delta variant, the facts about the delta variant, I think really gave an opening to these businesses to lean much more into the vaccine requirement.

ROMANS: Yeah, absolutely.

BERMAN: I think we'll only see more going forward.


BERMAN: Christine Romans, thank you very much.

Simone Biles now giving us an inside look at the mind battle that's derailing her at the Tokyo Olympics. Legendary swimmer Diana Nyad joins us next.

KEILAR: Plus House Republicans pulling stunts in their protest over mask mandates in the House.