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New COVID-19 Variants Raise Concern Over Winter Surge; Florida Seniors Struggle To Rebuild After Storm Destroyed Homes; Judi Dench Calls Out Netflix And "The Crown" As "Cruelly Unjust." Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 20, 2022 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So this morning, you can feel the chill in the air. Will the approaching winter mean a new COVID surge?

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now. Sanjay -- look, we've seen it before where the COVID numbers tend to go up when it gets colder and drier. What's expected this winter?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, winter's coming and with the cooler, drier weather you can expect some surges no matter what. The big question is how big a surge might they be? How big will these surges be?

If you look throughout the history of the pandemic, John -- and we've tracked this -- we sort of built this graph -- there's always a lull and sort of a downturn before you see some of these significant surges, especially in the winter months. We saw Omicron, for example. That was obviously really significant.

You see where we are now -- the right side of the screen -- that lull with COVID activity. The question is what is going to happen over the next couple of months.

A couple of things to sort of pay attention to. First of all, if you just look now compared to this same week in years past, what you find is that in 2022 compared to '20 and '21, we're in a better position in terms of daily deaths. Still, I mean, unfathomably high -- some 314 deaths on average over the last seven days.

Hospitalizations, though, John, which I think is the truest metric of things -- it really gives you a sense of things -- it's about on par with what we saw in 2020 right now -- lower than 2021. But we'll see.

The big question is these new variants that are coming in. They do appear to be more transmissible and they are increasingly gaining a proportion of the overall number of COVID cases. So week-to-week, they've been doubling, roughly. So we'll see by mid-November, for example, do they start to take over and become sort of the dominant strain. One thing -- let me just show you there, John. There's all these numbers and letters, and all that. Peter Hotez calls them the Scrabble variants because they have these unusual letters now. One thing to keep in mind, they're all part of Omicron and that's an important point. The WHO has not said this warrants its own new variant name because they're not different enough yet in order to warrant that.

So, just to keep that in the back of mind as well. These are all variants but they're still all coming under the Omicron tree.

BERMAN: Even if they have a triple-letter score, like the Scrabble thing.


BERMAN: Look, if they are all part of Omicron -- I got my Omicron- specific booster a few weeks ago. What will the effect of this be of this new booster, perhaps?


GUPTA: Yes, I think that's the key question. I think the booster -- the new booster should be more protective against these new variants for the reasons just mentioned. While they are different, they're not different enough to say hey, look, they're just going to evade immunity.

A couple of things. If you had -- if you haven't gotten this bivalent booster you probably should. And also, the antibody treatments are often based on antibodies to some of the original strains. So if you're someone who counts on getting an antibody treatment, that's probably not going to be as effective against these new strains for that reason.

But the bivalent booster or, frankly, if you've had COVID during a time when you've had BA.5, which is this most recent sort of variant that is dominant, that's probably going to be protected for a period of time as well. But earlier infections, earlier vaccines, probably not as effective.

BERMAN: So, Sanjay, a lot of people are already sniffling. What do we know about other respiratory diseases, including the flu?

GUPTA: Well, we always had the advantage of looking to the southern hemisphere to get an idea of what might be coming here because their flu season is earlier. And in the past couple of years, they always had mild flu seasons. This year, in Australia and New Zealand, for example, it was a higher-than-average peak, so that's one thing. We know it's probably going to be higher than average here in the United States and the northern hemisphere as well.

Second, at the same time, you're relaxing COVID restrictions. That was probably helping against some of these other respiratory viruses.

And also, John, there's this concept known as viral interference, meaning as you have one virus that's really dominant, sometimes it sort of inhibits other viruses. Because of the COVID low, it's allowed some of these other viruses like RSV and even flu to start really jumping in numbers early. I mean, hospitals here in Atlanta, for example, two to three times more full than they would normally be this time of year with those other respiratory infections.

BERMAN: Viral interference -- 15-yard penalty, automatic first down.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you for being with us. It gives us something to think about --

GUPTA: You got it.

BERMAN: -- as we head into the colder months.

Thousands of Floridians just starting their long road to recovery after Hurricane Ian. We're going to hear from some senior citizens still trying to piece their lives back together.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And frustration is growing inside the Biden administration over how to handle the growing number of migrants at the border. We have a new report next.



BERMAN: This morning, thousands of Floridians still suffering three weeks after Hurricane Ian. Relief organizations say no group was hit harder than Florida's many senior citizens.

CNN's Gabe Cohen has the story.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than three weeks after Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida --

COHEN (on camera): Here's your truck?

COHEN (voice-over): -- Johnnie Glisson is still sleeping in his pickup truck.

JOHNNIE GLISSON, HURRICANE IAN SURVIVOR: I just play with my guitar and read my Bible, and it's all good.

COHEN (voice-over): The storm flooded his house outside Fort Myers. There is little left beyond this damp couch on cinder blocks where he rests his back after long days of cleanup.

GLISSON: It helps me feel like this is still home and it's my home. So probably more of a symbol than anything that says that I'm here and it's coming back.

COHEN (voice-over): The 74-year-old bought this home for retirement.

GLISSON: It breaks your heart. It breaks your heart. COHEN (voice-over): As he picks up the pieces, he says he has no insurance to help.

GLISSON: I'm not leaving.

COHEN (on camera): Do you know how you're going to afford to rebuild?

GLISSON: We had FEMA out there and so, I'm hoping to get some help there.

COHEN (on camera): A sprawl of destruction lines so many streets in southwest Florida. The remnants of wrecked homes waiting to be hauled away. Thousands of Floridians are just starting their recovery and relief groups say seniors were hit especially hard.

ROB GAUDET, CAJUN NAVY: Florida is where people come to retire. There's a large elderly population that really are facing their darkest hours.

LISA NEEDHAM, HURRICANE IAN SURVIVOR: I'm sorry I didn't tidy up for you.

COHEN (voice-over): Lisa Needham's home in Arcadia is gutted down to the studs.

NEEDHAM: The water level was up to here.

COHEN (voice-over): The items that made this house a home are piled by the curb.

NEEDHAM: I can't replace that. The house is a house but those things -- I still have the memory, though, so it's OK.


COHEN (voice-over): The 62-year-old and her boyfriend are living in their friend's R.V., expecting the rebuild could cost as much as $80,000 and take months, at least.

COHEN (on camera): Have you thought about relocating?

NEEDHAM: No. This is what I wanted. This is what I always wanted, so I'm going to stick with it.

COHEN (voice-over): They have flood insurance but don't know how much they'll get back. Lisa retired last year. Now she says she may have to go back to work.

NEEDHAM: To put out that kind of money would be very tough on me right now.

COHEN (voice-over): The storm displaced thousands of Floridians. Few had flood insurance, and rebuilding isn't an option for everyone.

TOBY FREEMAN, HURRICANE IAN SURVIVOR: I'm going to be stuck here for a while, if not forever. COHEN (voice-over): Seventy-seven-year-old Toby Freeman is in Buffalo, New York where his daughter Krista (PH) lives, after he says seven feet of water wrecked his home. His wife, Karen, is still recovering in a rehab center in Florida.

FREEMAN: The only thing I got out of that house was the clothing on my back, and I had to throw it away.

COHEN (voice-over): They say they have little savings and no insurance, so they're moving to Buffalo. Krista is dipping into her retirement funds to help them find a home.

KRISTA, DAUGHTER OF TOBY FREEMAN: I have to take care of my family. I wouldn't have it any other way.

ALICE JOHNSON, HURRICANE IAN SURVIVORS: Maybe we can keep the sheets.

COHEN (voice-over): Alice and Richard Johnson aren't leaving Florida but they're moving into their R.V. full-time. They didn't have flood insurance, they say, and a lot of their retirement funds are tied up in this house.

COHEN (on camera): Was that a difficult decision?


JOHNSON: Probably one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made in my life.

COHEN (voice-over): Alice turns 85 next week and they want to focus on enjoying life together.

JOHNSON: How many good years do I have left to live? I don't want to spend the next two years rebuilding a house, dealing with contractors, doing work ourselves. Going -- even picking our furniture for what? For who? For me? I think that we would rather sell it and live for the next couple of years.


COHEN: And John, there have been some signs of progress. Like, behind me is the Sanibel Island causeway. It's the only road on and off that island that was so badly battered by the storm, and that causeway washed away in the storm. Well, yesterday, it reopened, allowing people on that island to come on and off for the first time.

So, again, there are those signs of progress, but the recovery and the cleanup there has barely started.

BERMAN: That's right, although the causeway is good news. And Gabe, I can't help but think those people in your piece -- hopefully, they'll get the help they need so they have many, many good, high-quality years left.

Gabe Cohen, our thanks to you. KEILAR: There is some new CNN reporting. Frustration growing between the Department of Homeland Security and the White House over how to handle the large number of migrants arriving at the southern border.

CNN's Pricilla Alvarez has more on this. Tell us about this friction.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Well, there's been this ongoing tension over the course of the administration over how to handle the border, and some plans have struggled to get White House approval and to get off the ground.

In fact, I spoke to officials who pointed me toward one plan that had been discussed for months about moving migrants further into the United States to process them. All of this in coordination with cities and NGOs. But the plan is dead for now, they tell me, in part because of hesitation from the White House over some of the logistics.

Now, this is all against the backdrop of what is nearly two million -- or I think more than two million encounters on the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022. Of course, that includes some repeat crossers, but it speaks to the migration in the region and the urgency of the issue. In fact, another official told me they are at the point of Hail Mary after Hail Mary.

Now, the White House says they have moved on some plans. Last week was an example of that. And they went on to say in a statement, quote, "Encouraging robust debate, hearing different ideas, and getting lots of expertise before making policy decisions that impact millions of lives is a feature, not a bug."

Still, a challenge for this administration as they continue to see these numbers.

KEILAR: Just unprecedented, what we're seeing.

Priscilla, thank you so much for that report.

A CNN crew traveling to eastern Ukraine where troops are facing a hardened Russian defense.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to wait and hope that there's not any hits anywhere close to us.



KEILAR: We're on the ground in Ukraine, next.



BERMAN: Hundreds of candidates across the country pushing former President Trump's claim that the 2020 election was stolen. What would it mean for democracy if they win in November?

John Avlon with a reality check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Life is often a struggle between the urgent and the important and so, it seems, is this campaign season.

Now, this headline really says it all -- "Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn't a Priority." But there are, of course, many competing priorities. The economy, inflation, crime -- all issues that can define people's day-to-day lives, and no one should doubt their importance.

But democracy is foundational. It's the basis for everything that defines our country and it's never really been an election issue before because we've kind of taken it for granted until Donald Trump's election lies and the attack on our Capitol.

Now, backing those lies was a litmus test for most Republican primaries this year but it doesn't play as well in competitive general elections. So now, Republicans are trying different tactics to distract from the whole defend democracy thing.

Listen to this clip from an Ohio Senate debate between Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance, who backs Trump's baseless claims.


REP. TIM RYAN, (D) OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: Those people who say that the election was fraudulent are a threat to our democracy. If we lose the foundational element of this country -- our vote, our elections -- then we lose everything.

J.D. VANCE, (R) OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: I find it interesting how preoccupied you are with this at a time when people can't afford groceries, people can't afford to walk down the street safely.


AVLON: That's the 'why are you so obsessed' play. Just let it go, man, and focus on the issues that people are dealing with right now.

Now, it sounds reasonable until you realize that it's really asking folks to ignore an ongoing assault on democracy.

Just listen to Kari Lake, the election-denying GOP candidate for governor of Arizona who told our Dana Bash that she doesn't want to talk about 2020, but also refused to say whether she'd accept the results if she lost in 2022.


KARI LAKE, (R) ARIZONA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I'm going to win the election and I will accept that result.


LAKE: I'm going to win the election and I will accept that result.


AVLON: That's the slippery slope in action. The only legitimate results are "if I win" and that's the opposite of democracy.

Then there's the rewriting of history play, like Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee claiming in his debate against Independent conservative Evan McMullen that he opposed attempts to overturn the election. In fact, text messages from Lee to Trump's then-chief of staff Mark Meadows obtained by CNN show that Lee was actively trying to find a way for Trump to stay in power until days before January 6.

And when all else fails there's always the victim card, played here by Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.



REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I was a victim of the January 6 riot just as much as any other member of Congress. That was the third day I had on the job. I had nothing to do with what happened there that day and I will not have you accuse me of that.


AVLON: Here are the facts. Despite her junior status, Greene was a Stop the Steal advocate who attended a meeting at the Trump White House focused on overturning the election. And, of course, she was one of 139 House Republicans who voted to overturn the election after the attack on our Capitol. And that's the real issue.

Look, there are dozens of honorable House Republicans who did not vote to overturn the election, and there are independent-minded Republicans running for the Senate this year who refused to bow down to Trump's lies and demands, often receiving insults from the ex-president in return.

But backing democracy is basic. It's not something we could wisely shuffle in the deck with other policy priorities and treat as optional. If you baselessly repeat a lie -- one that guts trust in our democracy -- or if you refuse to accept the results of an election unless you win, then, in effect, you don't believe in democracy. You only believe in it when your team wins and that's not democracy at all. If that's not disqualifying, what is?

Likewise, if you voted to overturn the election after the attack on our Capitol, then that's a vote which should follow you around forever, especially when you aim for higher office, like Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York, or Congressman Ted Budd of North Carolina, now running for governor and senator, respectively.

This is a time for choosing and good people can disagree on all sorts of policy issues. Those are the debates we should have in a democracy. But we shouldn't be debating support for democracy itself because that's much bigger than anything else.

And that's your reality check.

BERMAN: Yes. When you don't accept the results of the vote you might be missing the point on this whole democracy thing.

AVLON: Yes, exactly.

BERMAN: John Avlon, thank you very much.

KEILAR: In a new interview with Variety, Meghan Markle opened up about the loss of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the standard that she set for the world, saying, quote, "What's so beautiful is to look at the legacy that the queen was able to leave on so many fronts. Certainly, in terms of female leadership, she is the most shining example of what that looks like. I feel deep gratitude to have been able to spend time with her and get to know her."

Joining us now is CNN anchor and correspondent, Max Foster. So, Max, tell us more about what she said in this interview because she said quite a bit.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, it was very wide-ranging -- quite a soft interview. She talks about how she enjoys cooking. She shares an office with Prince Harry. And it was actually recorded before the queen died and then updated after the queen died.

And she speaks very fondly of the pulsive moments, as you often do, of course, when a member of your family dies. She also says about her engagement, which was in 2018, to Cheshire -- a very famous engagement where these pictures were taken. They clearly had a lot of chemistry there.

"I reflected on that first official engagement that I had with the queen. How special that felt. I feel fortunate. And I continue to be proud to have had a nice warmth with the matriarch of the family." And I think that was certainly there in those early days, at least.

Also in the interview, Brianna, confirmation that there is a docuseries in the works with Netflix where Harry and Meghan will tell their story. So, clearly, watching that to see what she says about other members of the family.

KEILAR: That is going to make some major waves.

Also making waves is this letter from Judi Dench. She actually wrote an open letter calling out Netflix because of its series "THE CROWN." Tell us about this.

FOSTER: Yes, she's pretty furious about this. A very strongly-worded letter to the Times of London reflecting that John Major, former prime minister, had also said about this new series of "THE CROWN."

In that series, in the first episode, as we understand it, Prince Charles goes to John Major and tries to press him to get the queen to abdicate. John Major says this is utter nonsense. It's not founded in any truth whatsoever.

Judi Dench backs up that claim as well in this letter. She says, "The closer the drama comes to our present times, the more freely it seems willing to blur the lines between historical accuracy and crude sensationalism."

She says there should be a disclaimer at the beginning of "THE CROWN" to say that this is fictionalized drama. Netflix have always resisted that.

But she does worry now, at this point, whether or not it's impacting the impression of the world, really, on the royal family and the U.K.

KEILAR: Yes. I mean, I think it is, Max. It seems undeniable. I'm sure you speak with people and they talk about it as if it does impact them.

Max, thank you so much for those reports. We appreciate it.

And NEW DAY continues right now.

BERMAN: Vladimir Putin moving to tighten his grip on Ukraine and maybe more importantly, on Russia itself.

I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.