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Biden Introduces New Vaccine Requirements in Effort to Control COVID Surge; CNN Poll: 69 percent of Americans Say Things in U.S. are Going Badly; Kentucky Hospitals Pushed to Their Limits. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Friday, September 10. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.


An all-out assault on coronavirus. What could be a pivotal moment in this pandemic. President Biden announced aggressive new vaccination requirements that could impact as many as 100 million Americans in a sweeping attempt to contain the latest COVID surge. The president's frustration palpable.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?

We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us. So please, do the right thing.


BERMAN: The president is requiring all unvaccinated employees at private companies with more than 100 workers to do weekly testing. Now the way to get out of the weekly tests: vaccinate.

He's also implementing vaccine mandates for all federal workers and contractors, with no option to test out, and for educators in all federally-funded programs. Mandates also on workers at facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid funding.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And President Biden also calling out jerks on planes: my words not his. Conspiracy theorists, as well, and politicians who refuse to implement common sense coronavirus containment measures.


BIDEN: There are elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19. Instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up, they're ordering mobile morgues for the unvaccinated dying from COVID in their communities. A distinct minority of elected officials are keeping us from turning

the corner. These pandemic politics, as I refer to it, are making people sick.


KEILAR: Now criticism from some Republican governors was swift, and the largest union that represents federal workers also raising some questions, although some big companies like Amazon are voicing their support.

The president's actions all but certain to be the subject of legal challenges.

And joining us now to talk about the public health aspect of this and the legal aspect, Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He's also a member of the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee.

And also joining us, CNN "EARLY START" co-anchor and correspondent, Laura Jarrett.

OK, Dr. Offit, I mean, just overall, when you heard these, you know, six pillars, what did you think of them?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: Well, in a better world, you wouldn't need vaccine mandates. Everyone would look at the data, would see that vaccines clearly keep you out of the hospital, keep you from dying, and we would all get a vaccine.

We don't live in that world. We live in a world where there are a significant percentage of the population that, either due to willful ignorance or incredible selfishness, are saying, It's my right to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection to others. And so the government has to step in.

I think it was a really important first step, and you can see that -- how frustrated President Biden is that, here, we did the hard part. We created a vaccine and mass distributed it, or mass administering it. It's free. It's completely available. It will save your life. And still, people choose not to get it. It is remarkably frustrating.

We can end this pandemic easily if we just get to 85 to 90 percent of the population vaccinated, but we choose not to do that. Painful.

BERMAN: You say -- you say it's a good first step, Dr. Offit. I think a lot of people are looking at this and saying these are some pretty serious new measures. If it's only a first step, what more could he or, in your mind, should he have done?

OFFIT: I don't think you should have an opt-out. I don't think you should have an opt-out where people get tested every week. That's a leaky system. I mean, you know, during that period of time when you're not being tested, you may have -- be able to transmit that virus. I think there is no good reason not to get a vaccine. Only a lot of bad reasons. So why allow people to do something that only puts themselves and others at risk? I wouldn't have even done that.

But I mean, I can understand why, at least politically, it's a little easier to have a pop-off valve there, but I would have been a little tougher. It's why I'm not a politician.

KEILAR Not a politician. Not a lawyer, which I think we're going to see some -- some of here in this equation, Laura Jarrett, because with this requirement that businesses of 100 or more employees have to either have their workers vaccinated or their workers have to be tested once a week, I mean, we just expect this is going to end up in court.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": It's going to end up in court, but the legal hook here is actually pretty straightforward. And like Dr. Offit, my question is why the president didn't do all of this sooner if he believes he has the legal authority to do so. And it's pretty clear that he does.

He's using the agency known as OSHA that, obviously, protects workplace safety laws, enacts those laws all the time, has already done it in this pandemic. And the idea here is, like, look, COVID is presenting a grave danger to public health. Right?

And so their legal hook is to use it like that, to have an emergency temporary rule that doesn't have to go through the usual public notice and comment and gets around some of the bureaucracy that we usually see around these things.

What it seems to be is that they are doing this for businesses that perhaps wanted to do it all along but were perhaps afraid of lawsuits. And this gives them the legal cover to finally pull the trigger that they wanted to probably do months ago.

BERMAN: Laura, just remind me, there's a little thing called Supreme Court precedent here also, correct?

JARRETT: There is, and the Supreme Court, as you know, John, as a scholar of the Supreme Court yourself, I'm sure, goes back to 1905 with smallpox and the Supreme Court saying that Massachusetts could have a vaccine mandate.

We know that other states do this. We've seen Los Angeles now doing this in the school context. We've seen other courts already doing this for colleges and students that have tried to protest against vaccine requirements. So we know that this is legal.

And again, the question is, why not do this weeks ago when the Delta variant was surging?

KEILAR: Yes, I wonder, Dr. Offit, about some of the school provisions here where you are seeing -- and, you know, part of this is political, as well. But part of it is very real, that they are going to say, Look, if you're in a school district where you have an anti-mask governor who is penalizing school districts and is withholding pay for teachers and administrators if they impose a mask requirement, the -- it's going to be made up. The federal government is going to make sure that those folks get paid.

How essential do you think that is going to be on the public health side of things in making sure that, you know, kids are wearing masks?

OFFIT: It is remarkable, isn't it? I mean, for children less than 12, because we don't have a vaccine yet, the only chance they have to avoid this virus is to wear a mask, which clearly works.

And then you have, you know, governors who say, no, no. We want to tie both hands behind their back. We want to give them every chance to catch this infection. It is remarkable.

And there was recently a publication out in "Morbidity & Mortality Report," which is a CDC publication, talking about an outbreak in Marin County, California, where the teacher wasn't vaccinated, didn't wear a mask and then -- then was infected and taught for a couple days. She infected half her class, and they proceeded to infect other children.

I mean, it's just -- it's remarkable to me that our children are precious. We know how important it is to have on-site education as distinct from virtual learning. We should do everything to maintain that by masking and making sure that the teachers are all vaccinated and for children over 12, that they're all vaccinated. It's -- it's just hard to watch.

BERMAN: Dr. Offit -- and I think this bears re-enforcing here -- remind people who is getting serious illness from COVID right now? Who are the patients in the hospital with COVID?

OFFIT: Right. So initially, I mean, it was obviously people who were -- who were older. So we had 93 percent of the deaths from people over 55.

Now you're starting to see this become a childhood illness. I mean, 27 percent of all cases now are in children. There were 250,000 cases of infections in children last week and 200,000 the year before that.

And although the hospitalization rates are lower as compared to an older person and the death rates are lower, still, when you're talking about those kinds of numbers, a 2 percent hospitalization rate means a couple thousand to 4,000 children are being hospitalized each week. And the death rate of 0.03 percent still means that there's going to be 7 to 10 children who could die every day.

So this is a now -- I think one can consider this a disease of children, and we need to protect our children; and we're not doing that.

I mean, I was on service a few weeks ago, and we admitted a number of children who were 12 to 17 years of age. And the frustration was not only that they weren't vaccinated but their parents weren't vaccinated, which is another way to protect them. It's just so hard.

There's so much in medicine we don't know. There's so much we can't do. This we know. This we can do, and yet many people just choose not to do it.

BERMAN: Right. And again, the people hospitalized are unvaccinated. I mean, this is a serious illness of the unvaccinated almost exclusively at this point.

KEILAR: Yes, it really is. Dr. Offit -- sorry, Dr. Offit.

OFFIT: Yes. No. I think we -- I think President Biden at one point said that this is a disease of the unvaccinated. It's really, it's a pandemic -- it's always been a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Now it's the pandemic of the willfully unvaccinated, which is just incredibly frustrating.

KEILAR: Yes, so well-put. Dr. Offit, Laura, thank you so much.

BERMAN: All right. This just in. We have a new CNN poll that shows, while a majority of Americans approve how President Biden is handling his job, a rising number say things aren't going so well and have deep concerns over several issues. Which issues?

We're joined now by CNN political director and host of the CNN political briefing podcast, David Chalian.

David, let's start with the president's approval rating.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, John. Our latest poll shows him at a 52 percent approval rating; a 48 percent disapproval rating, and his disapproval has been on the rise.

Take a look at this across party, because I think this is one of the areas of concern for the president here. He's got Democrats, 94 percent approve. Independents, so critical to his political success in getting into office, he's now at 46 percent approval. That's down 5 points than the previous poll.


And of course, not many Republicans: only 9 percent approve of the job the president is doing right now.

KEILAR: And so it's key, obviously, how the president is handling the pandemic. The administration knows this is really the lynch pin for everything. What do Americans say?

CHALIAN: Brianna, you're so right. Everything flows from the president's ability to get this virus behind us.

He has majority support of how he's handling it: 56 percent on issue No. 1, coronavirus; 44 percent disapprove.

But take a look at that approval number over time. It's significantly down. When you look, he was at 56 percent approval now. In April, he was at 66 percent approval on his handling of the coronavirus. He's down 10 points since his 100-day mark.

BERMAN: The bottom line is that Americans feel differently about the pandemic this morning than they did before.

CHALIAN: John, there's no doubt. There's real worry and concern out there about the virus.

Take a look. We asked folks, to get a sense of how worried you are about coronavirus in your community, right? Forty-one percent very worried; 29 percent somewhat worried; 18 percent not too worried; 12 percent not at all.

Now I want to show you, this 70 percent of very worried or somewhat worried, 70 percent, 7 in 10 Americans. A year ago in 2020 it was at 60 percent. This is going in the wrong direction. I think this gets at why you heard what you heard from the president.

KEILAR: And getting a handle on COVID, you know, that's really good politics. But it's also good for the economy. You know, it's really the key here. And I wonder where Americans -- you know, how are they feeling about the economy right now?

CHALIAN: Yes. First of all, I should just say, we asked folks what is the most important issue. Coronavirus out front, economy second. Nothing hits double digits, anything else. So you're right.

Thirty-eight percent say that economic conditions today are good, but more than 6 in 10, 62 percent, say that economic conditions are currently poor.

And take a look when you break that out by party and over time, OK. These are people who think the current economic conditions are poor. Forty-three percent of Democrats say that now. Sixty-five percent of independents. Eighty-one percent of Republicans. It's up across every category from April. All partisan categories, there is more pessimism about the economy right now.

BERMAN: Yes, when we say the two most important issues are COVID and the economy, they're the same thing in a lot of cases. There is another issue which Americans care a lot about, and that's crime, David.

CHALIAN: And the rise in concern there is apparent in this poll, as well, John. If you -- this is about risk of crime in your community. Twenty-seven percent very worried, 29 percent somewhat worried. About a third say not too worried. Ten percent not worried at all.

But again, let's focus in on the worried population and compare it to where we were. So 57 percent now say that they're somewhat or very worried about crime in their community. That's up 20 points from just a year ago.

BERMAN: So -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

KEILAR: I was just going to say, what is the biggest takeaway when you're looking at the interaction of all these numbers, David?

CHALIAN: I mean, the biggest takeaway here is that this is an electorate, this is a country right now where concern about major issues are on the rise.

So we've talked about coronavirus. On the economy, if you dig a little deeper in these numbers, you find the concern on the economy is largely driven by inflation, fears of rising prices that Americans are facing.

So while the president has a majority approval rating, that top-line number of 52 percent, everything underneath it gets at the task ahead and the challenging environment the president finds himself in.

So David, I'm dying to know what you think about the last 24 hours, because I think the president's speech and his moves on coronavirus are a really big deal that affect a whole lot of people.

He knew, the White House knew that the response from Republican governors and certain leaders around the country was going to be hyperbolic. They were going to go to 11 right away. I mean, there are people throwing around terms like tyrant and whatnot on these testing requirements and the federally mandated vaccines for federal workers.

Why do you think the White House and the president thought it was worth the risk? Other than the clear public health benefit, that he just wants people to not get COVID? Why was the political calculation made?

CHALIAN: You say other than, but obviously, I think that was No. 1, right? Everything for this president, every agenda item, every ability to lead the country on his policy proposals, depends on him leading the country in putting the virus behind us. And so I think that was a critical one, even knows the political backlash was coming.

But John, I think, as these numbers indicate, he's also lost political support as Delta has been on the surge this summer, especially with independents. And that frustration among the vaccinated that he gave such voice to in his remarks. I think he wanted to say, I get that, folks, but it's still my job to lead the entire country, vaccinated or not, to a better place on the other side of this pandemic.

And I think that's why you saw him do this huge sort of reset, refocus approach that he did in that speech last night.


BERMAN: Fewer people getting sick is probably worth whatever political blowback comes his way.


BERMAN: David Chalian, great to see you.

CHALIAN: Thanks.

KEILAR: Coming up, some new reporting on how House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is quietly supporting Republican candidates who former President Trump is against. So how will Trump respond?

BERMAN: Plus, new details about a CIA memo ahead of 9/11 warning that bin Laden was determined to strike the U.S.

And we're going to take you inside an ICU in one of the hardest-hit areas of Kentucky where nurses are near a breaking point.


CAROLYN EDDINGTON, REGISTERED NURSE IN COVID-19 UNIT: It's destroying us. We're -- I mean, everybody is getting it. Everybody is getting sick.



BERMAN: This morning, coronavirus transmission so high in Kentucky amid the latest surge, officials announced yesterday that a fifth of Kentucky school districts have had to close at some point already this school year because of an increase in cases.

Hospitalizations across the state have also spiked to new records.

CNN's Miguel Marquez was able to get access to an ICU in Hazard, Kentucky. Miguel joins us now.

And again, Miguel, as I keep on pointing out to our viewers, you've been all around the country for the last 18 months, state to state, ICU to ICU, and here you are now this morning in Kentucky.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No one is more shocked than me. I thought I would be done with hospitals and this sort of reporting a long time ago. But look, not only are cases up in Kentucky but in Hazard, Perry County, it has one of the highest case rates in the entire country. We visited one hospital that has tons of patients but not enough staff.


BILLY COUCH, COVID PATIENT: It's more than a cold. Believe that.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Billy Couch didn't think much about COVID until he got it.

COUCH: 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 when you're sitting here, and you can't breathe, and you feel like you're going to die.

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.

(on camera): How serious is COVID?

COUCH: It's bad to the bone. I recommend everybody wash their hands, do what they've 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 don't pay no attention, to be honest. But I do now. And get your shots.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Wanda Combs 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.

WANDS COMBS, NURSE MANAGER, ICU AND CVU, APPALACHIAN REGIONAL HEALTHCARE: It's been very, very hard. And I get emotional, because it is our community.

ICU nurses work very 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 OK. You don't care that you're tired. You've made a difference.

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

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

COMBS: The family, you know, it's hard for them to realize, Oh, you mean this is the end? You really mean this is the end?

It is our community. It's people that we know or we know people they're related to, so it's -- 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.

(on camera): What is this virus doing to places like Hazard, Kentucky?

EDDINGTON: It's destroying us. I mean, everybody is getting it. Everybody is getting sick. Everybody's -- I don't know. We're just seeing a lot right now.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Appalachian Regional Healthcare has 13 facilities across Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. It's entire system now overwhelmed by COVID.


MARQUEZ (on camera): Zero?


MARQUEZ: Across 13 facilities?

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

MARQUEZ (voice-over): 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 right now that 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, APPALACHIAN REGIONAL HEALTHCARE: One respiratory therapist should comfortably have four ventilator patients, you know, because we work with the nurses, as well. But right now, I have about seven to eight ventilators per respiratory therapist.

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. So we're seeing -- I have patients from 20 years old today up to 75 years old. So the -- it attacks everyone. It's not just limited to one age group.

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

MARQUEZ (on camera): Under 20?

JONES: Uh-huh.


MARQUEZ: How sick?

JONES: Very sick, actually, for their age.


MARQUEZ: Now, this hospital system thinks that their cases and hospitalizations will continue into late September, early October. And then they hope that they will start to come down. And I know I will sound like an idiot when I say, 95, more than 95 percent of all the patients that are admitted for COVID in that hospital system are unvaccinated, John.

BERMAN: It's not idiotic at all, it's the fact, Miguel. And again, I just -- younger and sicker these patients are. And you've got hospital, hospital, and one thing that's consistent is that the patients are unvaccinated.

And we talk about the strain on the system and what the unvaccinated are, frankly, doing to the country. It's the strain on the system that you are seeing in hospitals like this. This is why the ICUs are filled.

MARQUEZ: Yes. It -- we're getting into a terrifying point at some point. We saw this early on in New York when there were so many people that were sick, there were people dying at home, people who couldn't get to the hospital, people -- that they could treat them if they got to the hospital, but sometimes they couldn't even get through the parking lot into the hospitals. And that's where they're heading right now.

The system is completely full across the entire area. And any one thing, any more spike in cases and a bad flu season, and any sort of traumatic event, it will push whole areas into the red, basically. And you will have people dying in very big numbers that basically just can't get the level of care they need.

BERMAN: Any -- any reticence to treat the unvaccinated, as opposed to people coming into the ICU with other things, from these healthcare workers you're talking to?

MARQUEZ: No. I mean, you know, you have the monoclonal antibody unit, and these hospitals are standing those units up as fast as they can. They can go 24 hours a day.

What is the most bizarre thing on the planet is that the people who do not want to get vaccinated are perfectly happy to accept the monoclonal antibody treatment, which is also a brand-new treatment, which is, you know, similar to a vaccine. It's just a different type of antibody that you're putting into your body in an IV drip with a much bigger needle -- John.

BERMAN: Miguel Marquez, I keep wondering what state we'll see you from next. Thank you so much for your continued reporting on this.

MARQUEZ: You got it.

BERMAN: Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says it's time for Republicans to discredit extremists and accept the realities of the 2020 election. It's time now?


BERMAN: Will the Republican Party listen?

KEILAR: That is a big question.

Plus, why is Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy quietly helping House Republicans who are being targeted by former President Trump? We'll have CNN's new reporting on this, next.