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13 Miami-Dade School Staffers Die of COVID Over Past Few Weeks; What NFL Teams & Stadiums are Requiring as Season Begins; Biden to Lay Out Strategy for Next COVID Phase; Ocasio-Cortez Slams Abbott's 'Deep Ignorance' on Abortion. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 08, 2021 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. It is Wednesday, September 8.


And this morning, a huge rise in the number of COVID cases among kids just as school begins across the entire country. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports more than 250,000 new cases involving children arise in the last week. That's a 23 percent increase from the week before. And a 250 percent increase from five weeks ago.

Nearly 27 percent of all new weekly cases are children. That is a much higher percentage than we have seen over the course of the pandemic.

Now, it is important to note that, while a quarter of all new cases are now among kids, they represent a much smaller portion of those hospitalized, about 2.5 percent of hospitalizations. Though, the raw number of children hospitalized does continue to climb. Look at that graphic, higher than it's ever been. Nearly 2,400 kids in hospital beds at the moment.

Overall hospitalizations -- and hospitalizations have been one of the more accurate ways to measure the trajectory of the pandemic -- they do appear to be leveling off. Let's hope that trend continues.


Now schools that reopened in the south where governors have fought mask mandates are paying a deadly price. One district in Georgia has temporarily moved to virtual learning after three transportation staff members died in a two-week period.

And in Florida, 13 employees from Miami-Dade public schools have died from coronavirus since mid-August. Their families say that all of them were unvaccinated.

The president of the Miami-Dade teachers' union, Karla Hernandez-Mats, joining us now to talk about this.

Karla, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

Thirteen staffers. And we should be clear, we're not just talking about teachers. There's also bus drivers, cafeteria workers and others. How are you all managing this? How are you -- how are you responding and dealing with this loss?

KARLA HERNANDEZ-MATS, PRESIDENT, UNITED TEACHERS OF DADE: You know, it's honestly very tragic and very heart-breaking. These were pillars in the community. We know of three teachers that passed away in the past three weeks. Two of them were institutional members of their faculty and staff, 30 plus years.

People referred to them as Mom, you know, for one teacher, Mrs. Smith. For Mr. Coleman, he was just the fabric of that community.

And so not only are we seeing students grieve this loss, because obviously, they're feeling it, as well, but all the faculty and staff and the community.

And so you know, it's just really devastating. And to see the trends, to see that this is happening in African-American communities, to see that it's unvaccinated people, you know, we just -- you know, we're at -- we're at a loss for words. And -- you know.

BERMAN: I want to pick up -- I'm sorry. I just wanted to pick up --


BERMAN: -- on that last point you made, which is that all 13 of those who died -- and we should point out it's unclear whether they got the virus in school or not. It may have been that they actually contracted it before the school year began. Nevertheless, the loss of life is a tragedy.

All 13 unvaccinated.


BERMAN: What does that tell you? And what efforts are you making? I mean, do you support vaccine requirements for school staff?

HERNANDEZ-MATS: So, you know, when we noticed this and we looked at, you know, our dashboard in Miami-Dade, and we realized that only 30 percent of African-American population in Miami-Dade is vaccinated, we felt that, as a union, you know, who fights for people and working conditions and, you know, just standards of living, we had to do something about it. It had to be more than thoughts and prayers.

And so we were fortunate enough to get in contact with the emergency manager of Miami-Dade County. He offered to do a popup vaccination site. So we were really focused on underserved communities. We had it yesterday. You know, we did organizing, called the community involved. And, you know, we had a decent turnout for a popup site that just happened.

And honestly, we did it because we know that, in order to honor these educators, that if they were alive right now, they would be educating the community and telling them to get vaccinated. And so we had to do something to honor their lives and to, you know, do something about it, be the change. And that's why we did that.

KEILAR: You know, Karla, do you -- do you want it mandated, though? And we ask because, you know, teachers have different opinions on this. School staff have different opinions. We've heard this. Some of them don't want there to be a mandate.

But we also know that mandates work. And when you're looking at this disparity that you are, where you think 85 percent of your teachers have received at least one shot, and yet, when you're looking at the African-American population in Miami-Dade that we're talking about, only about a third of folks who are vaccinated, there's a huge disparity. Do you want a mandate?

HERNANDEZ-MATS: So I'll tell you this, you're absolutely right. Eighty-five percent of our unit -- of our union has told us that they are vaccinated. So that's about par with what the American Federation of Teachers is saying, as well.

You know, here's the interesting part about the situation. We have, you know, in our letter of understanding with the district and negotiations, we have been able to get a $275 stipend that, once it gets board approved this week, will be -- anybody that's vaccinated will be eligible for this -- for this incentive.

But here's the thing. We are in a state where you couldn't even mandate masks. I mean, that was controversial. So do I think that it's ever going to be mandated in this state? No.


So we're doing our due diligence. We're trying to make sure that we get the information out, that we encourage and support as many people to get vaccinated, because unfortunately, in the state of Florida, our governor has turned everything political. It's polarized communities. We're not getting the support that we should be getting from our government in a moment of a health crisis. So we're doing everything that we can to educate our folks and make sure that they do the right thing.

KEILAR: Well, Karla, look, our hearts are with your school community there. We all know someone who was in our elementary school or junior high or high school who was a part, as you said, of the fabric of the community, and this has been a huge loss for you.

Karla Hernandez-Mats, thank you.


BERMAN: So it is football eve. The NFL season starts tomorrow, and teams across the league imposing different measures to prevent COVID outbreaks in crowded stadiums. I'm joined now by Buffalo Bills fan and CNN senior data reporter, Harry Enten.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I love it. Finally, a reason to wake up.

BERMAN: We're coming for you, though. Just know that.

Listen, different teams are doing different things. Let's talk about masks. What's the breakdown there?

ENTEN: Yes. So I've got to be honest, this is -- for a fan, it was confusing for somebody who was trying to research this with his producer, Sabrina, and the help of our sports desk. My goodness gracious.

Look, mask requirements for fans age 12 plus attending NFL teams home games. Required in all areas, including outdoors. There are only five teams that are doing that, including my Buffalo Bills. But note, it's for unvaccinated fans only, and there have been some fans that have been complaining about a lax enforcement of that. Because how do you know if the fan is unvaccinated once they're seated, unless there's separate seating?

All other 27 teams, it's required in indoor spacings or not required at all. This kind of breaks down sort of half and half. So we're still sort of seeing this split in teams, sort of reflecting the split in the nation, with some requiring masks and in some places, really not.

BERMAN: Now, there's one team requiring vaccinations in the stands, right?

ENTEN: Yes. So this is really interesting to me in any event. So requirements, proof of vaccination. The Las Vegas Raiders -- In my gut, I want to call them the L.A. Raiders. How old am I? They're the only team that's requiring a proof of vaccination for age 12 plus attending home games, no matter -- no matter what.

A vaccination or negative COVID-19 test, the Seahawks, the Chargers and the Saints. I should point out, though, of course, the Saints are playing their first game in Jacksonville because of the hurricane, recent activity there.

But overall, most teams are not requiring vaccination.

BERMAN: You're showing your age by wanting to call them the Las Angeles Raiders. Most older humans want to call them the Oakland Raiders. But be that as it may.

Harry, is there a political breakdown between how these teams are doing it and what states they're from?

ENTEN: No, not really. This to me, again, interesting insofar as normally, we're so used to these breakdowns being so political, but if you look here, required in all areas, indoor or outdoor, teams in the states that Biden won, it's four of them, versus just one in the states that Trump won.

But here again, you're seeing the Biden states 16, 16 of them required in indoor spaces or no requirement at all. Teams in the Trump states, 11.

So we are seeing perhaps slightly more states, you know, in the Biden by percentage requiring them in all areas. But overall, it's not the same exact, the political split you might expect.

BERMAN: So there's been a huge amount of press over the last month about players who are getting COVID, not getting COVID. What are the facts about, you know, where COVID is among NFL players?

ENTEN: Yes. It's low, but look here. Insofar as if you want an example that the vaccinations work, positivity rate among vaccinated -- among NFL players vaccinated, look at that: just 0.3 percent. Just 0.3 percent.

Compare that to the unvaccinated players, 2.2 percent. That's seven times higher than the vaccinated players.

We've been showing statistics over and over and over again that vaccinations work. NFL players, in this particular case, are a great test for it, and it proves that it works.

BERMAN: You are way less likely to get it if you are vaccinated. Period. Full stop.

There are two teams, right, that are 100 percent vaccinated or say they are?

ENTEN: Yes, that's right. So the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons.

And what's interesting to me about this is look in the home state: 20 to 40-year-olds with at least one dose, only about 54 percent in Florida; only about 48 percent, 25 to 34-year-olds in Georgia, the home of the Atlanta Falcons.

And so what we're seeing here is NFL players, like college players, are much more vaccinated than people their age. So these sports organizations are doing a good job of keeping their players on the field, and they have good reason to, because they want to win football games.

BERMAN: And the league has imposed some pretty strict rules.


BERMAN: And incentivized it to a huge extent. Harry Enten, thank you very much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Go, Patriots.

ENTEN: Go, Bills.

BERMAN: Brianna.

KEILAR: Go, Bills. Hopefully something to cheer about here in the coming days.

President Biden set to deliver a major speech tomorrow on his plan to stop the spread of the coronavirus Delta variant and to boost vaccinations.


CNN's John Harwood is with us now to preview this.

What do you think he's going to be saying? What is he really trying to drive home for Americans?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, getting control of this pandemic is the key to every single thing that Joe Biden wants to accomplish in his presidency.

And you were talking earlier about schools, getting schools back on track. Entertainment. Harry wants to watch the Buffalo football team. Looking at the economy. Disappointing jobs report last week. All of that is tied to control of the pandemic, which has reverted.

Early in Joe Biden's presidency, lavished a lot of money on it, ramped up vaccinations, had a lot of success.

But now we're at the incredibly difficult part, where he's got that 25 percent of the country that's resistant to the vaccines, and this is pushing a very heavy boulder uphill.

We know that fear helps. We know that permanent FDA approval of the vaccines helps a little bit. We know that mandates help. So the question is how can Joe Biden push that boulder a little bit further up the hill?

Interestingly, I talked to a senior administration official yesterday, who said -- I asked about the speculation or the question about whether they would mandate vaccinations for air travel. The answer is no, they're not going to do that because, a, they think that air travelers are already highly vaccinated at an above average rate. Secondly, there's not a lot of COVID spread on airplanes, because there's pretty good air filtration. And third, the jam-ups at the airport. Six-hour lines at TSA.

So the question is how can they push up the rate of vaccinations? They think the key is employment situations. Joe Biden's already mandated that for federal government employees, for the U.S. military. How can he encourage states to further mandate vaccinations? They think that is a one-touch place where you can get a whole lot of people checked out in a sustained relationship, and if you -- if employers can do it, that's really the key. Employers, schools, universities.

Don't know the mechanisms that he's going to use to advance that case. That's what we're going to see tomorrow.

KEILAR I think that's what's so interesting about this is he, as you said, he's pushing a boulder up the hill; and they see it that way very much. They're up against -- a way -- in a way, they're up against a wall, and that is this vaccine hesitancy. But it just goes to show how much of this is out of their control, right?

HARWOOD: That's right. KEILAR: When it comes to the fear working and maybe employment

situations working. That's not really him. That's other places.

HARWOOD: And it shows how the success of his presidency is really out of his control unless he can do this.

We've seen, even before the Afghanistan problem that he has been dealing with for the last several weeks, his approval rating on COVID has declined. "Washington Post"/ABC poll just had him down to 52 percent approval on handling COVID. Had been in the 60s earlier.

His overall approval rating has now gone significantly below 50 percent for the first time in his presidency.

The way that he can preserve his clout, to get his domestic agenda done. Yesterday we saw him in New York and New Jersey, talking about climate change, pivoting off those natural disasters, extreme weather events. The way that he can keep Democrats together and keep pushing that through Congress is by having people see him as successful. And getting the pandemic under control is the key to that.

KEILAR: Yes, sure is. John Harwood, thank you so much.

HARWOOD: You bet.

KEILAR: Coming up, the exclusive story behind this dramatic raid on a group of alleged Russian mercenaries. You'll want to see this. We have some new details about which countries were allegedly involved and why.

BERMAN: Plus, Monica Lewinsky's new comments about Bill Clinton and whether he should apologize.

And Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, her scathing response to the Texas governor's defense of the state's new six-week abortion ban.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): It's awful. And he speaks from such a place of deep ignorance.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why force a rape or incest victim to carry a pregnancy to term?

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): It doesn't require that at all, because obviously, it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion. So for one, it doesn't provide that. That said, however, let's make something very clear. Rape is a crime.

And Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas.


BERMAN: Right. That's Texas Governor Greg Abbott defending his state's near ban on abortions, which prohibits abortions before many women even know that they're pregnant and does not allow for an exception for rape or incest.

His remarks didn't sit well with a lot of people, a lot of women, especially Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Listen.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I find Governor Abbott's comments disgusting. And I think there's twofold. One, I don't know if he is familiar with a menstruating person's body. In fact, I do know that he's not familiar with a woman -- with a female or menstruating person's body, because if he did, he would know that you don't have six weeks. It's that, quote unquote, "six weeks" -- and I'm sorry we have to break it down on -- you know, break down Biology 101 on national television, but in case no one has informed him before in our life -- in his life, six weeks pregnant means two weeks late for your period.

And two weeks late on your period for any person, any person with a menstrual cycle, can happen if you're stressed, if your diet changes, or for really no reason at all. So you don't have six weeks.

This idea that we're going to, quote unquote, "end rape" when the same type of, frankly, rape culture and the same type of misogynistic culture that informed this abortion law to begin with is also, you know -- those beliefs are held by the governor himself and this Texas state legislature.


Frankly, there are many people in power, as we know from the #MeToo movement, that commit sexual assault, that help their friends cover up these crimes. And some of them even serve in the same state legislatures that are voting on these anti- -- you know, just these anti-choice bills. It's awful.

And he speaks from such a place of deep ignorance that -- it's not just ignorance. It's ignorance that is hurting people across this country.


BERMAN: Joining us now, CNN anchor and correspondent who formerly covered the Justice Department, Laura Jarrett; and CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp.

Laura, let me start with you there. I think what -- what Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez said was incredibly interesting and intentionally so. There's nothing that makes men feel more uncomfortable than when you talk about the biology of all this.


BERMAN: Right. But I think -- but I think that was intentional here, and I think that answer was -- was deeply telling.

JARRETT: Yes. But I think that it's also she knows her audience. She knows exactly who she's talking to, and she knows how to make a persuasive case to her Democratic base that sees this on a continuum of sexism. It's not about biology. It's about power. And whether it's five weeks or seven weeks or six weeks, whenever you hear a heartbeat, Texas has made it virtually impossible to get an abortion right now.

And the question is what do Democrats do with this? AOC is clearly passionate about this. She clearly cares about it. She clearly knows her constituents care about it. But how do Democrats do anything about it when, fundamentally, they don't have votes to do anything about it in Congress?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, she is incredibly talented, and I don't think she was just speaking to her base. Because the moderate majority of this country does not believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases. They are not with this law.

Neither are Texans. Thirteen percent of Texans believe abortion should be illegal in all cases. So, this is a law, really, no one asked for. I say that as a pro-life person who very much dislikes abortion. This is not the way to do it. And I think AOC knows that she is in the majority in the country, not just her base.

I also just have to say, John, I mean, I'm sure you thought the same thing I did. Didn't this have echoes of, like, Todd Akin --


CUPP: -- and Richard Murdoch and these guys who speak so clumsily about issues of biology and rape. You know, that Greg Abbott is venturing to say he can eliminate rape when rapists are your boyfriends, your husbands, your teacher, your friend, the fraternity brother, your colleague. I mean, it's an impossible standard to set and absolutely absurd on its face. But that just goes to show how unworkable and impractical this law is.

BERMAN: Look, and again, when we're talking about the biology of it, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was speaking, you were saying it appeals to more than just the base here.

CUPP: Yes.

BERMAN: Roughly half of America gets their period.

CUPP: Have our parts? Yes.

BERMAN: And understands what she's talking about there, and Greg Abbott may not be one of them. JARRETT: I think that's actually a red herring. I think he knows

exactly how this works. And I think this was a deliberate attempt to make it as hard as possible to get an abortion.

If you date back to when you hear a fetal heartbeat, and as we know, so many women do not know that they're pregnant until far -- far beneath -- so many weeks after six weeks. They did it deliberately. I think that all the evidence is there for that.

And other states have tried to do it and will use this now as a -- as a blueprint.

CUPP: Well, they wanted an effective ban.


CUPP: And I just think it sets such a dangerous precedent, to undermine settled law. Whatever side of any issue you're on, whether it's gun rights, which is, you know, in the Second Amendment protected. And Republicans complain a lot that Democrats try to chisel away at that in the states.

Or this abortion law, which again I don't like abortion, but I accept Roe v. Wade as settled law. And this completely undermines it.

BERMAN: Besides legislation, which again, you know, Nancy Pelosi is going to try to pass, but it won't get through the Senate, Merrick Garland says he's going to try to do what he can. But honestly, legally speaking, is there anything to be done here?

JARRETT: But the problem with -- when even the attorney general doing that -- and I appreciate the sentiment. As he's talking about enforcing laws that are already on the books that criminalize attacking somebody who is attempting to try to get an abortion or a provider. Those are already -- those are settled laws that are already there. He's not talking about doing anything new.

And so absent a constitutional amendment, which we know would be really hard, or absent essentially gutting the filibuster, which there appears to be no appetite for, to try to make a new federal law, Democrats' hands are tied. So essentially, they're going to have to make this an issue that they want to run on. You would actually need new people in Congress to do something about this.


KEILAR: And so when you think of people in Congress, there's Senator Amy Klobuchar --


KEILAR: -- who's now saying this, for instance, about ending the filibuster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): I believe we should abolish the filibuster. I do not believe an archaic rule should be used to allow us to put our heads in the sand, to use Justice Sotomayor's words; to put our heads in the sand and not take action on the important issues.


KEILAR: I mean, S.E., this goes to what are Democrats going to do? Well, they're pissed off, right? I mean, there's nothing like ticking them off with something like this. And that's going to translate, they would think -- and they're going to try to optimize that -- to votes.

CUPP: Yes. And what you're speaking to is, I think, a real political miscalculation by Republicans, to do this right before midterms. You're taking away a huge wedge issue. You are mobilizing Democrats at a time where, believe me, they need to be mobilized, right? We know that these mid-term elections can really favor the party out of power.

And so Republicans kind of took that off the table and got a victory. We've seen this happen when Republicans win on gun issues and other kinds of things. They kind of lose momentum. So, we'll see if this was actually a good idea or, politically, a bad idea. I know it's going to energize Democrats to do whatever they possibly can.

BERMAN: All right. Stand by, friends, because there's something else that's really interesting to discuss. Monica Lewinsky speaking out in a new interview. What she says about whether Bill Clinton owes her an apology.

KEILAR: Plus, a surprise development in Britney Spears' conservatorship battle.