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FDA Authorizes Johnson & Johnson Vaccine For Emergency Use; More Than 23 Million Americans Have Been Fully Vaccinated; Some States Ease Measures As More Vaccines Become Available; Senate To Take Up $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Package; Governor Andrew Cuomo Accused Of Sexual Harassment By A Second Former Aide; Nebraska Senator Blasts Party For "Weird Worship Of One Dude"; Former President Trump Takes Stage At CPAC With Headlining Speech. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired February 28, 2021 - 06:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just granted emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson single- shot vaccine.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are one step closer to vaccinating the nation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I was actually like shaking because I was like, "Oh, my gosh. I can go get it."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am worried that people are lifting restrictions saying this is over when the reality is we are not over yet.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Let me tell you this right now. Donald J. Trump ain't going anywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Conservative Political Action Conference is underway.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): The left is telling you to submit or they will cancel you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to know. We are waiting to hear the next step. We're all looking for guidance.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY WEEKEND with Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Beautiful look at the city of New York. Good morning to you. Today advisers to the CDC will meet to vote on whether the agency should approve the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. That's after the FDA granted it authorization for emergency use. That vote is expected to happen this afternoon.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: And once that's decided the CDC director would give the final go ahead before nearly 4 million doses of the shot could begin rolling out to vaccine centers across the country. That could happen as early as tomorrow. So this will be the third coronavirus shot allowed to be administered in the U.S. And, so far, it's authorized for adults only.

BLACKWELL: The single-dose shot does not require special storage and that makes it easier to distribute across the country. Studies show it offers 86 percent protection against severe symptoms.

Let's start this morning with CNN's Polo Sandoval. He's outside a mass vaccination center in New York. Polo, the U.S. has fully vaccinated a little more than seven percent of the population. How do experts expect that this new shot will help?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, an expert at the Health and Human Services Department said it best here. The addition of this vaccine is a virtual game changer, saying that the emergency use authorization of a single-dose vaccine that can be stored at simple refrigerated temperatures and has shown to prevent hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID that could change and will likely change the trajectory of the pandemic.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): As Johnson & Johnson's new single-dose vaccine is officially authorized by the FDA for emergency use the nation's vaccination numbers are showing significant progress. The CDC reporting just over 75 percent of all distributed vaccine doses have been administered. The weekly average of shots going into arms, some 1.6 million a day. With an estimated 4 million J&J doses ready to be sent out, the nation's vaccine supply is likely to increase availability.

DR. ESTHER CHOO, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We are confident we should be able to tell people get the vaccine that you can of any of the three that are out. They are all performing incredibly well.

SANDOVAL: However, there is more ground to cover now than ever before due in part to emerging virus variants says Dr. Peter Hotez. The Houston pediatrician says earlier goals of vaccinating 60 to 80 percent of the population in order to stop the spread of the virus may not be enough.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PEDIATRICIAN, HOUSTON: We are probably going to have to hit 80, 90 percent of the population vaccinated. So we're going to need all the adults vaccinated and we're going to have to start vaccinating adolescents and kids, as well. So the bar, unfortunately, is probably going to rise. SANDOVAL: States which are responsible for establishing vaccine eligibility now offering shots to more of the residents. Child care providers in Delaware now have their chance. Pre-K through 12 teachers in Connecticut will get their turn starting tomorrow.

CDC data shows over 23 million Americans have already been fully vaccinated. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, who spoke to CNN Saturday evening, is among them. He is hopeful the CDC will soon roll out guidance for those who are fully immunized in order to protect those who aren't.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We are going to eat in a restaurant tonight. So as more and more people become vaccinated, and as we learn more about these vaccines and show that the protection is really robust and also protects against transmitting a virus, you are going to see the economy open up.

SANDOVAL: As for the race to get more of the country protected several states are easing off some of their protective measures. Tennessee lifts restrictions on visitors at long-term care facilities starting today. And tomorrow, South Carolina will lift restrictions on mass gatherings.



SANDOVAL: Now this morning we are told that about 4 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are already manufactured, ready for ordering as soon as that last green light is issued. Now in terms of timing here we do understand that multiple states could potentially even begin to -- or at least they could begin to get shipped out as early as tomorrow. And some states could begin to receive them shortly after that. Utah's governor yesterday telling CNN, Victor and Christi, that his state expected to receive thousands of those doses in the coming days and they could potentially start going into arms by Thursday at the latest.

PAUL: That is something. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

Well, West Michigan emergency room physician Dr. Rob Davidson with us now. Dr. Davidson, always good to have you here. Thank you so much.

I want to ask about the Johnson & Johnson one-dose shot approved for 18 and older. I know that you were talking about the fact that there are some misconceptions about this virus -- this vaccine rather. What are they?

DR. ROB DAVIDSON, WEST MICHIGAN EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Yes, I think -- yes, I think people are getting hung up on the number, right? We're at 94, 95 percent. Now we're hearing 85 percent for this vaccine. But it's 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations, ending up in the ICU on a ventilator or ending up dead. And that is the critical number.

Even though the absolute numbers for the virus have been going down over the past several weeks -- you know, I just admitted a couple of people last week to the ICU. Some of the sickest people I have seen. So for the people who get this virus it's still an incredibly deadly virus. So preventing those folks from getting hospitalized or particularly ending up dead is critically important and this vaccine does that.

PAUL: And you would know that being the E.R. doctor that you are and what you have seen over the last year, we know. The CDC, of course, advisers meeting today not just to vote on the distribution but also apparently to designate priority groups for this.

So wondering, if it is 86 percent effective and you are saying, obviously, we shouldn't let that number scare us, but is there an opportunity here perhaps to use this vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, on some of the younger population and, therefore, prioritize the other two vaccines for people who are older and more vulnerable?

DAVIDSON: You know, I think that's going to have to be sorted out. Right now, I still think we need to get those priority groups vaccinated. And the fact that this prevents people from ending up hospitalized, ending up dead from this virus I think this should be put into that pool for folks.

And particularly in areas where it's hard to store the other two vaccines at freezer temperatures or at, you know, the minus 70 for Pfizer. In community health clinics and doctors' offices they have refrigerators and this can be stored for up to three months. And I think, you know, the general population of high-risk individuals should be getting vaccinated first for sure and then we can move on to kids who are relatively lower risk.

PAUL: We are talking about nearly 4 million single doses here. It could be distributed as early as tomorrow. And we heard Polo say possibly shots into arms by Thursday. What is your expectation when it comes to the distribution and the administration of this and the change that that will bring to the fight against this virus?

DAVIDSON: Yes, I think it's a game changer. You know, this is a race now. We have variants popped up in South Africa, U.K., Brazil. Now we have variants out of California that are dominating there. And it's a race, the vaccine against the variants.

We don't want to develop variants that are highly resistant to vaccines. We don't have those variants yet but we know the longer this goes on, the more transmission that occurs, the higher the chance that happens. So it's just a matter of getting the vaccines in arms. And, yes, I think as we start by the end of this week and really ramp it up, this is going to change the game dramatically.

PAUL: When you talk about variants, I think people hear that and they wonder are we entering a phase where the COVID vaccine will evolve at some point into something similar to a flu vaccine, that it's something that we would have to get continually or annually because of the variants that are popping up. What do you say to that?

DAVIDSON: Well, some of that depends on how well we get the vaccine out now. I know here in Michigan that funding has been held up just a bit for vaccine distribution because of political wrangling with our legislator and our governor. But I think the quicker we do it, the less the chance of that.

Even if that's the case, yes, they can -- they can modify these vaccines very quickly. Inserting different RNA from the virus that tells, you know, which protein to make so we know it can be done. I doubt it will be forever as the flu virus comes every year, but certainly for several years it's pretty likely we are going to have to get a shot every year just to keep up with it until we finally stamp it out.

PAUL: I think -- I think that's what we wanted to hear. I think people are sitting at home going, is this something that I will have to repeat for a while? And you are saying you think there's the possibility that that could be true.

DAVIDSON: I think there's a good chance. Again, the quicker we are, the better we are now, the less the chance of that. And, you know, it's just a matter of getting all of that data.

A pandemic is challenging. It's all playing out right before people's eyes. Usually this stuff happens behind the scenes in medical journals and then it gets rolled out as one big package.


And, you know, we are learning as we go. But the information coming in so far is very promising about these vaccines we currently have.

PAUL: So when you talk about the variants is there one variant in particular you have your eye on that is more concerning to you than others?

DAVIDSON: It looks like the South Africa variant is the one that could potentially be more deadly, certainly more transmissible. And in this trial, again, this is why we can't compare this vaccine to the other two we now have, this trial happened on people in South Africa knowing that those variants are present. And it seems to be slightly less effective against -- in South Africa. I think 62 percent versus overall 74 percent in the U.S.

And so I think that's a concern, keeping transmission down, not just in the U.S., but globally. That's why reentering the WHO, getting involved in the global fight against this pandemic, which is, after all, worldwide, is critically important to our future's safety, to us finally getting out of this in the U.S.

PAUL: All right. Dr. Rob Davidson, always appreciate your expertise. Thank you for taking the time for us today.

DAVIDSON: Thanks, Christi.

BLACKWELL: This week the Senate will take President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill now that the House has passed it.

PAUL: The measure includes $1,400 checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, direct payments to state and local governments and more, but the Senate is expected to strip out a provision that raises the minimum wage.

CNN's Daniella Diaz is with us now. We know that this is a very contentious element of this bill. What do we know about going forward with it?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: That's right, guys. Now that the House has passed this massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package all eyes are on the Senate.

Now, I just want to mention a couple of things that are in the House version of this bill. As you guys mentioned this $1,400 stimulus checks, direct funding for state and local governments, more money for vaccine distribution. But one thing that is noticeably part of the House version of this legislation that is not part of -- that will not be part of the Senate version of this legislation is this $15.00 minimum wage increase and that is because the Senate parliamentarian ruled that it cannot be included in the Senate version.

Now, this is a win for moderate Democrats in the Senate who weren't going to support this legislation if it included this provision, namely, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. And Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, needs every single Democratic senator to sign on and support this legislation because they are planning on passing this using budget reconciliation.

So a simple majority, which means they need all 50 Democratic senators in the Senate to sign on with Vice President Kamala Harris being the tie-breaking vote. And I should say as well that we are not expecting any Republican support in the Senate on this legislation.

So what happens now? Well, we're kind of unclear on the timeline for what's going to happen in the Senate these next couple of weeks. But there is one date we are very aware of which is March 14th. This is when millions of Americans are going to lose their unemployment benefits and the White House is putting pressure on Congress to try to pass this legislation before then so that they can beat this deadline.

So the pressure is on, the clock is ticking and that's what we are going to be keeping an eye on this next couple of weeks and see how the Senate lays out their schedule on this legislation.

BLACKWELL: Daniella Diaz for us there on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

Still ahead, "The New York Times" reports a second former aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has come forward accusing him of sexual harassment. What we're learning about that and the governor's response to the allegation. We have that for you.

PAUL: Also, why Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse is taking aim at his state's Republican party and what he calls the quote -- "weird worship of one dude."



PAUL: Seventeen minutes past the hour right now. And "The New York Times" is reporting this morning a second former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo has come forward accusing him of sexual harassment.

BLACKWELL: The former aide, her name is Charlotte Bennett. And she told "The Times" that the incidents happened last late spring during the height of the state's fight against coronavirus.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is following the story. She's with us now. So, Brynn, tell us more about the allegations and what the governor's response has been.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christi and Victor, as you mentioned her name is Charlotte Bennett. She's 25 years old. She worked with the administration throughout this pandemic and she actually left the administration back in November. And she mentioned a lot of interactions in "The New York Times'" article about her time with the governor, time in his executive office. But in particular, she noted one where she felt uncomfortable.

She did say before that though she did feel like the governor was acting sort of as a mentor. But going to this June date that she mentioned to "The New York Times," she said she was in the governor's office and essentially they had this personal questions were being sort of fired back and forth from the governor -- rather from the governor to her, and she said that he, basically, said -- asked her if she had ever been with an older man, and she also said that he said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s. And she told "The Times" that she definitely took these questions, this interaction as sort of an overture for a sexual relationship.

Now, "The New York Times" did say that they have text messages from this time to corroborate her story, but I do want to mention that the governor quickly did put out a release, a statement, basically, denying this. I want to read it in full to you.

It says, "Ms. Bennett was a hard-working and valued member of our team during COVID. She has every right to speak out. When she came to me and opened up about being a sexual assault survivor and how it shaped her and her ongoing efforts to create an organization that empowered her voice to help other survivors, I tried to be supportive and helpful.

Ms. Bennett's initial impression was right. I was trying to be a mentor to her. I never made advances towards Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported. This situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press.


I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review and I am directing all state employees to comply with that effort. I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgments. I will have no further comment until the review has been concluded."

Now, we did reach out to Bennett to get her side of the story, to get more on this "New York Times" reporting and she didn't give us any comment. But again this is a hit that came a second time this week from allegations of sexual harassment against the governor. The first one earlier this week again from a former aide saying that she was -- in a Medium post saying that Cuomo gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips in 2018 in his office. Her name was Lindsey Boylan.

And, again, these are allegations that we also tried to corroborate as well. She said she, basically, was just going to let that Medium post that she put out in the public speak for itself. But the governor really has been taking just a number of hits, not just when it comes to his behavior in the executive office, but, of course, his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, specifically when it comes to the nursing home death data.

We know that there has been criticism from both sides of the aisle. Republicans particularly want him to be impeached. They are calling for his impeachment. And then we also know that there is an investigation that is ongoing by the U.S. District Attorney's office in Brooklyn and the FBI. Although we don't know particularly what they are focusing that probe on, whether it be Cuomo or members of his administration. One comes to that nursing home data.

But, again, this has been a tough week for the governor and certainly we'll have to see how this review goes. But I have already seen from other places, Christi and Victor, you know, on social media people are saying he shouldn't be the one calling for the review. There should be an overarching review possibly by the New York attorney general or others.

PAUL: All right. Brynn Gingras, we appreciate it so much. Thank you.


BLACKWELL: Thank you, Brynn. Former President Trump will speak to a group of conservative activists today. What his speech could mean for the future of the Republican Party heading into next year's midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race.



PAUL: So Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse is the latest Republican to face a rebuke from his state party in large part due to his support for impeaching former President Trump. Now the Nebraska GOP state central committee stopped short of a formal censure yesterday but expressed their -- quote -- "deep disappointment and sadness with respect to the service of Senator Ben Sasse and calls for an immediate readjustment whereby he represents the people of Nebraska to Washington and not Washington to the people of Nebraska" -- unquote.

Now, in a statement, Senator Sasse reiterated a point he made earlier this month saying -- quote -- "Most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

BLACKWELL: We are a few hours away from former President Trump delivering his first speech since leaving office. Now, his remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference known as CPAC this afternoon are expected to put the future of the Republican Party and his role front and center there.

CNN political analyst Toluse Olorunnipa is with us, national reporter -- politics reporter for "The Washington Post." Also with us is CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen, former U.S. ambassador, White House ethics czar and was the House judiciary special counsel in former President Trump's first impeachment trial. Welcome back to both of you.

Mr. Ambassador, let me start with you. One of the themes of CPAC this weekend has been the big lie, that there was some mass voter fraud that led to the theft of victory from former President Trump. You wrote for "USA Today" ahead of the conference that -- quote -- "This lie fueled the events of January 6th. As such we must treat its repetition as nothing short of an ongoing incitement." You think there should be consequences for what we are watching in Orlando?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Victor, thanks for having me back. I do think that there should be consequences. It's as if we've fallen into a time warp where this big lie about stealing the election that incited that insurrection never happened. When Josh Hawley alluded to it, he got a standing ovation. Ted Cruz's speech, he actually quoted a line from a movie about an insurrection, inciting an insurrection. You saw the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy enthusiastically embracing President Trump and ignoring these terrible events.

So I think that there needs to be responsibility for that. They can't just pretend it never happened.

BLACKWELL: But what type of consequence, more than, you know, their constituents voting them out? Should there be more?

EISEN: I think there should be. I think it's a violation of House ethics rules, for example. They are bringing discredit on the House. That's an ethics rule of the House of Representatives. There should be ethics complaints against them.

And, Victor, I am afraid that by continuing to repeat this big lie, they are going to incite more violence. They should look at the example of President Trump, held responsible in civil litigation, under criminal investigation.

Why are they following that man? He already cost them the House, the Senate, the White House. Why are they following this strategy for a permanent minority and for violence in the United States?

BLACKWELL: So, Toluse, let me come to you on this. "Politico" is citing three sources close to the president that former president is considering going after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

[06:30:01] Reportedly, he is still stewing after that awkward moment this week where he said that the President -- former President should speak at CPAC and Liz Cheney said that he should not. McConnell, looks like he has enough support to weather this onslaught from former President Trump. Does McCarthy have enough support?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, McCarthy does not have enough support on his own. That's part of the reason you saw him going down to Mar-a-Lago a few weeks back to sort of kiss the ring and try to make up with former President Trump, to try to soothe some of the angst that former -- the former president has over what McCarthy did in the hours after the January 6th attack.

We all heard about the very heated phone call between McCarthy and Trump while the insurrection was going on, some shouting going back and forth. And there are some raw feelings that are still there. And I think McCarthy has realized that he needs former President Trump's support in order to maintain his control of the party.

Right now, there aren't really many people trying to publicly gun for McCarthy's seat. But if the former president uses this broad platform that he has a CPAC to attack the Minority Leader, that could really set off a major civil war within the Republican House Caucus.

So, McCarthy realizes that he needs president -- former President Trump's support, but he is trying to smooth things over, trying to say that the party is a big tent, not kicking out Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committees and doing anything that may get Trump more unhappy with him.

So, he's trying to see if he can oversee a big tent party, but it's very difficult. And if President Trump blows things up, it will be very difficult for him to keep his position especially if there are other Republicans that stand up and say that they have more support from the former president, they have shown more loyalty to the former president. And that may make it easier for someone to take his position.

BLACKWELL: Ambassador Eisen, it's a typical for a former president in modern times to come out and blast a sitting president. It would be a typical for a sitting president to blast one of his predecessors. Should President Biden address what the former president will say today?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's important for the Biden administration to keep on doing what they've been doing, Victor. They are looking forward. They're defining their own agenda. They're pressing an agenda starting with this very popular COVID relief package to help the American people, to cure the pandemic, to resolve our economic elements.

There are plenty of people including prosecutors in New York and in Georgia who are looking at President Trump's past misconduct. Let's let others handle that while Biden stays focused on his positive agenda. BLACKWELL: Toluse, listen to the top Republicans in Congress on the former president during the impeachment process and then what they've said in just the last two days.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe President Trump should be speaker -- former President Trump should be speaking at CPAC this weekend?

MCCARTHY: Yes, he should.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: If the President was the party's nominee, would you support him?

MCCONNELL: The nominee of the party, absolutely.


BLACKWELL: Toluse, I know they have members to protect. They're trying to regain majorities. In Leader McCarthy's case, he later said that the former president was not responsible then said everybody is responsible. But for Leader McConnell, is he trying to walk a thin line or is this the beginning of a walk back for him?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, he is a calculating political animal and he sees president -- former President Trump coming back to the political stage. And if the former president decides to run again in 2024, at this point, he's leading in the polls and he could be the nominee of the party.

And McConnell realizes that he should not be trashing someone who could be the former -- the future nominee of the party if he wants to get back into power, even though he realizes that the former president incited a riot, was responsible for what happened on January 6th.

So, we see this very calculating political action taking place by the minority leader in both the Senate and the House, because they realized that former President Trump is entering the political scene again and is going to be leading the party even if they don't like it. And they're really just going to have to essentially figure out how to live with the former President as the leader of their party even if they want to move on because he's not moving on and the party faithful are not moving on.

They are very devoted to the former president, and as a result, these House and Senate leaders are going to have to figure out how to get along with the president who just left office.


BLACKWELL: All right, Toluse Olorunnipa and Ambassador Norm Eisen, the president, former president is scheduled to speak at 3:40 p.m. Eastern. We will see what he says. Thank you both.

EISEN: Thank you.

PAUL: So, New Yorkers are fighting back against a surge of brutal attacks on Asian Americans targeting crimes that have been on the rise nationwide since the pandemic began. Their plea to lawmakers and the push for reform, that's ahead.



PAUL: So, New York City Police are investigating a string of attacks on people of Asian descent.

BLACKWELL: Yes, but the problem is not limited to New York. CNN's Jean Casarez has looked into this and she found that incidence of violence against Asian Americans has climbed since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There has been a very large turnout at this rally which is combating the increase in anti-Asian crime here in New York City. There have been many notables here. The Attorney General of New York Letitia James said that if there is crime against an Asian American, that it is crime and it is against all of us. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also spoke here as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio.

And the statistics cannot be ignored. The NYPD is saying that last year in 2020 there were 29 crimes against Asian Americans. And in 2019, there were three. It was just Thursday night right here and we're very close to Chinatown here where the courthouse complexes are. But there was an Asian man and he was walking. Surveillance video caught it because surveillance video is catching a lot of these things now. And he was stabbed in the torso from the rear.

He is now in critical condition. The assailant was caught allegedly three hours later. He is currently in custody. But the following night, Friday night in Brooklyn, there were four Asian American males that were all stabbed. One is now deceased, two others had severe stab wounds and one had puncture wounds.

The people that I've talked to here that live in this community say they are afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I walk out the door and I brace myself. I prepare myself. And just -- I make sure I no longer listen to music when I'm walking around. I no longer listen to podcasts or, you know, distracted in any way. I want to make sure I pay attention to whatever's might be happening around me. That's where I am right now. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of my family members are living in fear and

anxiety, you know. The attack just a couple nights ago was a man stabbed in the back randomly, you know. So, this is not a way to live, you know, to walk with our backs against the walls always, you know, in fear. You know, something must be done. And you know, we're going to look to our elected officials, you know, our government, and really a society at large to understand and recognize this problem and do something about it.

CASAREZ: Crimes against Asian Americans are not only rising here in New York City, but all across the country, notably Chinatown in San Francisco. The New York City Police Department Asian Crime Task Force is saying that this is a priority for them. Crimes in New York are going up in general, but they say that their focus in that task force is to protect the Asian Americans who are the vulnerable. Jean Casarez, CNN New York City.


BLACKWELL: So, the last several months with some of the quarantining and lockdown in some places, they've been tough for a lot of people. But they are some creatures who are benefiting from the empty space. I should have warned you about this video. My apologies. London's rats.



PAUL: So, local businesses in the U.K. are still closed because of COVID lockdowns. Well, pest controllers say there's a usually elusive rodent that is not exercising that, let's say. And as Victor told you, please be ready to see some sites you might not yet be ready for this early in the morning. We want you to be --

BLACKWELL: We are tiptoeing around this one.

PAUL: Yes.

BLACKWELL: So, most of downtown London is still deserted, so rats, that's what we're talking about, they're going into some residential areas to find food. CNN's Nina dos Santos has this story.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN EUROPE EDITOR: They're in the parks, up the pipes, and heading towards a kitchen near you.


DOS SANTOS: Locked down London has become a boomtown for the capital's rat, left unchecked in shuttered shops and restaurants over the winter, and now making their way out of the inner city and into the suburbs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at this rat trying to get into the house. DOS SANTOS: According to the British Pest Control Association, rodent sightings increased 51 percent during the first lockdown, and 70 percent thereafter, prompting fears the U.K. capital could soon become famous for the super rats that once blighted Paris and New York.


DOS SANTOS: Right. Like, a hole.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a hole, yes.

DOS SANTOS: To let water out.

COATES: Exactly. It screwed out because people get lazy because they wouldn't do it.

DOS SANTOS: To avoid that, the city needs prevention like this. It's just before daybreak on the banks of the River Thames, and for the soldier Michael Coats is patrolling the refugee sites looking for the telltale signs.

COATES: And what you can also find especially in heavy populations are rats. They'll start ignoring them. These plastics is really easy for rats to (INAUDIBLE).

DOS SANTOS: Fewer people on the streets has made rats more conspicuous.

Do you ever see rats?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rats and pigeons, and everything else.

DOS SANTOS: So, you think there probably is something that?

COATES: They'd be definitely stopping here. Yes, definitely.

DOS SANTOS: And more abundant waste from lockdown homes has lured them to backyards.

COATES: We're certainly seeing a spike in in rats migrating back into people's gardens. Beginning of last year, we got a really bad case in someone's garden. She was an elderly lady, and she'd seen a few rats. And by the time we'd got there, there was maybe 10 or 15 rats and it'd become this really big issue.


DOS SANTOS: Rats have always been a part of London life, but nobody really knows how many there are in the capital. That's because usually, they're pretty elusive. They do have outnumbered the human population and they multiply really fast. Just one pair of breeding rats could give rise to 1,250 in one year. As their population swells, rats themselves are getting bigger and

harder to catch. Some are immune to poison, others have figured out how to avoid traps. Exterminator Paul Claydon has never been so busy.

PAUL CLAYDON, OWNER, FAST TRACK PEST CONTROL: Well, I would say, probably, call has an increased amount of about 50 percent for me.

DOS SANTOS: Do you think that when London eventually reopens, they're going to realize they've got one big rat problem?

CLAYDON: I think that's right. And I think a lot of commercial businesses have been empty for so long. I think when they start going back to these properties, and certainly businesses that haven't got pest control contracts in involved, they might find themselves going to have a big surprise.

DOS SANTOS: The mayor's office doesn't have a rodent plan, and many local governments don't offer free pest control either. Meaning businesses and homeowners often left to their own devices to deal with their new post-pandemic neighbors. Nina dos Santos, CNN, London.


PAUL: I know. That's my thought too. That is not fun to watch, but you need to be in the know, I suppose, so --

BLACKWELL: That's the new. Thank you, Nina dos Santos for the report.

PAUL: That's right. Nina, thank you. Let's talk about some soccer. They are no longer requiring players to stand for the national anthem. Now, you know, there's some controversy around this. We'll talk about it. Stay close.



PAUL: Well, U.S. Soccer has overturned its policy requiring national team members to stand for the National Anthem.

BLACKWELL: Carolyn Manno is here now. Carolyn, some pushback against that decision.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a little bit. Good morning to you both made the decision to overturn was overwhelming. More than 70 percent of us soccer's ruling body made the decision to end the policy.

Just a little bit of background for you here on the controversial decision. This started a couple of years ago. It was put into place after women's national team start Megan Rapinoe knelt in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick back in 2016 and last June following the protests against police brutality. U.S. Soccer moved to repeal.

The most vocal opponent to the idea was former Men's National Team player Seth Jahn. In a seven-minute review of the proposal, he downplayed the impacts of slavery. He also claimed that there is relatively zero data of police brutality against minorities. U.S. Soccer quickly distancing themselves from his remarks though, issuing a statement which read in part, there is never replace for racist comments in any form.

Meantime, baseball's opening day is set for one month from tomorrow. And the first spring training games of the year are today 28 of 30 teams going to play in front of limited fans. So far, only eight teams have announced plans to allow fans when the regular season begins.

And a very meaningful gesture from some of the biggest stars in golf. Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are among those who are going to where Tiger Woods' Sunday red later this afternoon during the final round of the World Golf Championships in Florida.

Ten-time major champion Annika Sorenstam who's playing in her first official LPGA Tournament in 13 years also going to where the 15 time major winner's signature colors today. So, sure to bring a smile to Tiger Woods' face as he continues to recover from that car crash on Tuesday. Nice effort there from the golf community.

PAUL: No doubt. Carolyn, good to see you. Thank you. And listen, I thought we were just talking about this horrible snow what, a week ago, two weeks ago. And now, millions of you from Texas to the Mid- Atlantic again are going to see multiple rounds of heavy rain.

BLACKWELL: Those storms are fueled by record warm spring-like temperatures across much of the South. High 70s today in Atlanta specifically. Let's go to CNN, Allison Chinchar. You're actually supposed to be the one giving the temperature not me, so I'm going to hand it over to you. What are we looking at at?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's OK. I feel very excited that you know. I feel very excited that you know. And it's important to note, Victor, top that those warm temperatures are also going to feel some severe storms across much of the same area too. So, it's not just a flooding risk, but also the potential for severe storms.

And that's going to -- this is the area that's going to be the focus for today. You're talking damaging winds, a few tornadoes, and some very large hail. It could be larger than golf balls, maybe even baseball sized hail. We're talking cities like Nashville, Memphis, down towards Shreveport, and even Dallas, Texas.

Now, again, it's all coming from this system that's bringing a ton of rain across areas of not only the southeast, but the Mid-Atlantic, the Ohio River Valley. All of these areas are going to be impacted today as this system continues to slide to the north and east.

Here's the thing though. That's just through today. Starting Monday, there is a little bit of a break from the Mid-Atlantic and the Ohio River Valley is that high pressure system really kind of pushes that front farther south. Not good news, however, for folks in the southeast where all of that moisture is really going to be funneled on Tuesday and Wednesday, especially in the first half of the day Wednesday before it finally all clears out by the latter half of the day on Wednesday.

By the time it does, it's going to dump a tremendous amount of rain, widespread two to four inches, but there will be a lot of locations that could pick up four, or five, even six inches of rain until it finally pushes out. Which is why, Victor and Christie, you do have the very big flood threat across much of the region for today and tomorrow as well.

BLACKWELL: All right, we'll watch for it. Allison Chinchar, thanks so much.

PAUL: Thanks, Allison. And NEW DAY continues right now.