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Pfizer Says It Will Seek FDA Emergency Use Authorization For A Booster Dose In August; Updated CDC Schools Guidance Prioritizes In- Person Learning, Even If All COVID-19 Safety Measures Aren't in Place; Condo Death Toll Rises To 78 After 14 More Victims Found; WH: FBI, DHS Officials Will Travel To Haiti "As Soon As Possible" In Aftermath Of President's Assassination; Billionaire Richard Branson To Launch Into Space Aboard Virgin Galactic Rocket Plane On Sunday. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 09, 2021 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And you can watch the entire interview with Bob Saget on The Leads Twitter page.
We'll be sure to tune in to State of the Union Sunday. Jake Tapper will talk to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Eric Adams and members of Congress, Adam Kinzinger and Chrissy Houlahan. Our coverage continues now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, new vaccine confusion, as top health officials and regulators appear to disagree with Pfizer about how soon COVID booster shots will be needed.
Also, tonight, President Biden confronts Vladimir Putin about new cyberattacks urging Russia to crack down on ransomware criminals or else.
And CNN goes inside the sister building of the collapse condo with investigators scrambling to make sure it's safe. We're standing by for a live briefing by officials in Surfside, that's coming up later this hour.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the Situation Room.
Tonight, government health experts and the maker of one of the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines here in the United States are at odds over whether Americans who received the Pfizer vaccine need a booster shot. CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us right now.
Elizabeth, there appear to be several mixed messages here over whether a booster shot is necessary. What's the latest?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, the mixed messages are just really incredible, Wolf. So what happened is that Pfizer says, oh, immunity is waiting. We think people need this booster. But the FDA, the CDC and every expert that we've talked to has said, no, that just isn't true. So let's talk about how this drama unfolded. Late yesterday, Pfizer, very unexpectedly, just put out the statement to the media saying we're asking the FDA for emergency use authorization, we intend to ask next month, which is soon. And because we think that immunity is waning to just two shots of Pfizer vaccine.
So, in other words, they were almost sort of in some ways, kind of denigrating their own products. And so, they put out a statement, but they didn't say based on a new study, based on some research we've done, they just pointed to some Israeli data that was put out earlier this week. It is based on a relatively small number of cases. It has not been published. Nobody's really, really sure of the science behind it.
But the Israeli Ministry of Health saying that the shot or the two shots together are now 64 percent effective against infection and 93 percent effective against severe illness, 93 percent effective at protecting you against getting really sick from COVID. That's amazing. How does that point to waning immunity? No one is really sure.
So then, the CDC and the FDA stepped in in a way that they almost never do. They issued a joint statement that said very clearly, "Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time."
So, again, that is the bottom line. What you see on the screen there, do not need a third booster, that is the bottom line. Pfizer also really being criticized for kind of not reading the room here. The main problem, really the only problem with the U.S. vaccine rollout is that 1/3 of Americans who are eligible to get the vaccine don't want it. They're not getting it.
So, for Pfizer to come out and say, oh, we think are two shots, that there's waning immunity that just gives those people the opportunity to say, aha, I told you this shot wasn't so good. I told you this didn't really work. That's exactly the opposite of what we want to be doing right now. Wolf.
BLITZER: Both, the shot really does work.
BLITZER: Today also, Elizabeth, the CDC issued updated guidance for schools here in the United States. This is key schools and parents are preparing to fully return to in-person learning coming up in the next couple of months or so. Give us the latest information.
COHEN: Yes, I mean, in some parts of the south where I am right now, schools are starting in just a matter of weeks. And CDC says the priority is in-person learning, but let's do certain safeguards. So, let's take a look at what the CDC is suggesting the school systems do.
First of all, they say "If not everyone is vaccinated in the school," which is most likely the case, "practice physical distancing, if possible." And remember, children under 12 can't even get vaccinated right now. And they said, "If you're not vaccinated," meaning you as a student or a staff member or teacher, "wear a mask indoors." Also, they're encouraging schools to offer weekly testing for unvaccinated people. So, in other words, if you're a student or a teacher or staff, that there should be weekly screenings that are happening.
Now, if COVID numbers go down and your community doesn't have much COVID, maybe children don't need to be screened for it. But that screening part is really important because that's how you detect outbreaks before they happen. Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Elizabeth, thank you very much.
BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen reporting for us.
Let's get some more on all of this with two of the best in the business CNN Medical Analysts Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency room physician, former Baltimore City Health Commissioner, and Dr. Ashish Jha, the Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
To both of you, thanks so much for joining us.
Dr. Wen, as you know, Pfizer plans to apply for what's called emergency use authorization next month for a third booster shot. But both the CDC and the FDA, they both say a booster shot isn't necessary at this time. How do people sift through this mixed messaging?
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think there is a lot of confusion right now. And this is how I would understand it. I think actually, all this confusion is based on a process misunderstanding.
What Pfizer is saying is that they want to apply for emergency use authorization for a third dose for this booster if and when a booster is needed. Now, they have yet to supply their data. We haven't seen what data are making them say this.
I mean I say, fine, let them apply. And then, let's look at the data. The CDC and FDA, that's their job to sift through the data to see, do we need a booster shot? Right now, the takeaway for the American people is that a third dose is not necessary that the most important thing is to get vaccinated to protect yourself.
There may be certain individuals, people who are immunocompromised, for example, who may benefit from a third dose in very specific situations. But the recommendation for the general public is that the two dose mRNA vaccines are the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines protect you very well including against the new Delta variant.
BLITZER: Yes, well said.
You know, Dr. Jha, how worried Are you that this Pfizer announcement could actually play into vaccine hesitancy as we heard from Elizabeth Cohen's report actually discourage people from getting vaccinated? DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, Wolf, first of all, thanks for having me back. You know, I hope that doesn't happen. Again, as Dr. Wen said, we've got to be guided by evidence and science here. And the evidence in science is very clear that two shots is incredibly protective.
And right now, what we're seeing is infection really rip through unvaccinated communities. And those are people ending up in the hospital and an orphan dying. So the key here is a message to people that they need to get vaccinated. Don't be distracted by boosters, don't be distracted by third shots, get two shot vaccine, and you're going to be much more protected.
BLITZER: You certainly will be.
You know, Dr. Wen, clearly experts want more data on whether the vaccines are losing what's called efficacy. But boosters down the road aren't out of the question, are they?
WEN: No, and we do need more data. This is something that I wish that the CDC will do more of, which is to collect data on breakthrough infections, infections that occur in people who are fully vaccinated. Right now, they're only collecting data for people who are severely ill, enough to be hospitalized or dying.
But I think we need to know, even for mild illness, how often are they occurring? If you suddenly see an uptick and breakthrough infections, say after nine months or 12 months, maybe you should think about a booster at that time. And I think we also need to know very importantly for the Delta variant, that's more contagious.
If people have breakthrough infections for the Delta variant, are they still able to transmit the virus to others, even if they have mild illness? That's a question that we don't have the answer to. And that's really important for determining recommendations going forward.
BLITZER: Dr. Jha, Pfizer says it's planning to publish data on all of this fairly soon. What will you be looking for?
JHA: No, it's great that they're going to publish it. What I want to look at is basically breakthrough infections and who is it happening in and how long after they were fully vaccinated? If we see, for instance, certain groups of people, let's say the elderly who might be after six or nine months, and then maybe we may want to think about a booster for that group, but it's all got to be driven by the data.
And at the end of the day, it's not about antibody levels, it's about infections and breakthrough infections and severe infections, that's what we care about and that's what I'm going to be paying attention to.
BLITZER: Dr. Wen, let's get to the other big news. Today, the CDC just put out, updated back to school guidance. The priority is getting kids back in-person in the classroom. But beyond that, it seems like the guidance sort of varies pretty widely. What do you think? WEN: I was pleasantly surprised by the guidance in a good way. I mean, I think that they have a difficult balancing act. I do believe it's really important to get kids back in school full time, 100 percent come to form.
I also think that the CDC did a good job of saying we still need to have mitigation measures in place like indoor mask mandates for children who are unvaccinated and also really ramping up testing. If we're not going to be able to keep six-foot distancing, because all the kids are back, you have to replace that with something and replacing that layer of mitigation with testing, which is great.
I do have a concern, which is they're saying that if you're vaccinated, you can take off your mask. But how are we going to verify if someone is actually vaccinated? That's the big mistake of the Biden administration I think so far, to not get behind vaccine credentialing in some way. And I think this is going to make that kind of enforcement of masking in schools, especially middle schools and high schools where kids can get the vaccine. How would you know if was vaccinated and who's not?
BLITZER: Well, what do you think Dr. Jha? What do you think about this new CDC guidance for teachers and kids going back to school?
JHA: Yes, I liked it. I, first of all, fully agree with Dr. Wen and the CDC recommendations. Kids need to be back in school, full time, in-person, and we know how to do that safely. And I think one of the areas where there was, again, not enough information is on the issue of masking.
I mean, one of the questions that's going to come up is, what if your infection numbers are incredibly low? What if you're Vermont, with almost no infections in the community? Do you still need to have the same mitigation measures as if you're southwest Missouri with large outbreaks?
So, there is going to have to be local customization of a lot of these rules. I think the broader guidance and you need some mitigation and vaccinations as the way back along with ventilation and mask wearing as appropriate. I think that's exactly right.
BLITZER: Dr. Ashish Jha, Dr. Leana Wen, guys, thank you very, very much.
An important note for our viewers of the next hour, right at the top of the next hour, Dr. Anthony Fauci will join us here in the Situation Room. We have lots to discuss with him as well. Dr. Fauci, coming up.
Also coming up, we're standing by for a news conference out of Surfside, Florida on the deadly collapse. We'll live coverage. That's this hour, standby for that.
Also, ahead, the Justice Department here in Washington just released new video from the riot, the Capitol riot on January 6. We'll share that with you.
And President Biden's new warning for Vladimir Putin, and we have details about their one-hour long discussion today about the new cyberattacks coming out of Russia.
BLITZER: All right, we have some breaking news coming in in the Situation Room. Right now, the U.S. Justice Department here in Washington has just released new videos from the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles.
Ryan, tell us what we're seeing now.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems with each passing day the Department of Justice releasing video that is even more shocking than the video we've already seen of what happened here on January 6. This particular video shows a police officer who actually had gone into the mob to try and help a woman who had died of an apparent drug overdose. He was going to help retrieve that woman, they weren't exactly sure if she was dead yet.
As he went into help to aid this woman in distress, he was attacked by the mob. This video shows him lying on the ground as he is kicked and punched by the rioters on that day. This video was released as part of an ongoing criminal trial of one of the accused rioters.
Now that officer did suffer a concussion. What's even remarkable about that, Wolf, is we're not even sure if that concussion occurred during this particular incident or a second incident where he was attacked later in the day. And this disturbing video just goes to show how serious the security situation is here on Capitol Hill.
And the final remnant of the security structure that was put in place after that violent mob on January 6, finally is coming down today. Workers have begun the process of taking down the fencing that surrounds Capitol Square that was the last fencing that was put in place after the January 6 insurrection.
But as they take that fencing down and is expected to be completely removed by Monday morning, there is still an open question about funding for some of these security agencies that are in charge of protecting the Capitol. Capitol Police are concerned that their funding could run out by the middle of August, the National Guard has warned that they're going to have to curtail some of their important projects if they don't receive the funding they need by August 1.
There's a back and forth between Senate Republicans and Democrats today over the status of that funding. Senate Democrats pushing for a comprehensive security supplemental and almost $2 billion package. It's already been passed by the House. Republicans are offering up a counter proposal that would just allow the funding for Capitol Police and the National Guard and then they can deal with the broader security concerns after. The sum total of this, Wolf, is that there is a stalemate, and we are running out of time before Capitol Police and the National Guard are running out of the money they need to keep the Capitol safe. Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, so, so important. All right, Ryan, thank you very much. Very disturbing video indeed.
We're also following very important developments over at the White House. President Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin today about the latest cyberattacks originating from inside Russia.
Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, tell us more.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this hour long call today came just three weeks after you saw President Biden and President Putin meet face to face in Geneva. It was prompted by another ransomware attack, and it led to another warning from President Biden to Russia.
And today when he was asked if they would face consequences if these attacks continue, he had one word to say, Wolf, yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
COLLINS (voice-over): President Biden delivering a new warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin tonight.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: United States expects when ransomware operation is coming from his soil even though it's not, not sponsored by the states. We expect them to act if we give them enough information to act on who that is.
COLLINS (voice-over): During an hour long call, Biden urged Putin to take action to disrupt ransomware groups operating out of Russia following a wave of new attacks.
BIDEN: It went well. I'm optimistic.
COLLINS (voice-over): Biden warning the U.S. has the right to respond if the assaults don't stop, a similar message to the one he issued in Geneva three weeks ago.
BIDEN: The bottom line is I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road.
COLLINS (voice-over): The President is under pressure to act after a Russian based cyber gang carried out a massive attack on a small Florida company paralyzing hundreds of businesses.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We don't have additional or new information suggesting the Russian government directed these attacks. COLLINS (voice-over): The White House also still not attributing blame after hackers breached a contractor for the Republican National Committee. Though Biden did summon his top cybersecurity officials to the Situation Room this week to weigh responses to the latest onslaught.
PSAKI: This is consistent with the President's view that diplomacy includes working together where there is opportunity and agreement and being clear and candid and forthright when there's disagreement. And this call is an example of that.
COLLINS (voice-over): The White House is declining to say how Putin responded to Biden's latest call for action.
PSAKI: That's an appropriate role for the United States to convey. I can convey and read out to you what role President Biden played and what message he delivered to the Russians.
COLLINS (voice-over): Press today on whether the U.S. would go on offense, Biden offered a one-word response.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does it make sense for the U.S. to take it up a notch and attack the actual servers that are used?
(END VIDEO TAPE)
COLLINS: Now, Wolf, earlier Jen Psaki said she would not characterize the Russians response to that call from President Biden today. But they have now put out their own statement, even casting doubt on the idea that these criminal cyber gangs are coming from Russia even though we have heard the White House say multiple times that they are.
And in this statement from the Kremlin, they said in the context of recent reports about a series of cyberattacks allegedly committed from the territory of Russia. Putin noted that despite the readiness of the Russian side, they said there have been no appeals on these issues have been made by competent U.S. agencies over the past month. That is what they're saying, as we are being told by the White House those conversations between Russian officials and American officials that they have been touting as progress given there is actually some dialogue happening on these cyber issues is set to happen next week.
What actually comes out of that, if anything tangible Wolf, remains to be seen.
BLITZER: Yes. One hour conversation today between Putin and Biden, very, very significant.
All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much.
Joining us now, the New Jersey Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer. He's a key member of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to get to this new video just released by the U.S. Justice Department, which shows just how violent it got on January 6. But now the fencing around the U.S. Capitol is coming down starting today in light of ongoing threats, though, and conspiracy theories out there. Do you believe there's been enough done to beef up security to meet potential threats down the road? In other words, is it smart to be taking down these barriers?
GOTTHEIMER: Well, Wolf, thanks for having me.
And, of course, I trust the guidance we're receiving from our intelligence agencies and Capitol Police about the appropriate steps.
I would say and you mentioned this in the reporting earlier that we will need more resources to fortify and ensure that there are no attacks on our democracy like we faced on January 6. Those pictures that you see, it just feels like it get punched in the gut every single time. I see a new one.
The bottom line is there's action we must take. It's good news that we're able to take the fencing down. The troubling news is that we still have a lot of work to do in tackling these threats, white supremacy threats, Oathkeepers, Three Percenters, other threats to our democracy.
BLITZER: Yes, these threats are still out there. These were not peaceful tourists who had just come to Washington.
BLITZER: Let's turn to our Russian aggression, alleged Russian aggression, I should say. The White House says President Biden will take any necessary action to defend Americans and critical infrastructure. So, what will it take to actually stop the cyberattacks apparently coming from inside Russia?
GOTTHEIMER: I think the President was right to draw a line in the sand today and reiterate what he said several weeks ago overseas. Now, these continued cyberattacks, these ransomware attacks, as we saw this past weekend. As we saw on the pipeline, we know they come from Russia, for Russian companies, from Russian actors.
The bottom line is this, they have to be stopped. We have we have to be aggressive to stop them. And I don't think we should hold back, and the President intimated today that he's going to take action and the country will take action where necessary. And I think the fact that he stood up so strong to President Putin is an indication of just how serious these attacks are and how serious we mean as a country when we say they have to stop and stop now.
BLITZER: Yes, President Biden, as you remember, he just delivered that warning face to face with Putin in Geneva. I was there covering that summit in Geneva.
Was it a mistake, though, do you believe, Congressman, to sit down with the Russian president as these attacks continue unabated?
GOTTHEIMER: No, you know, I trust the President to lead in foreign policy here and engagement with our -- with actors around the world. And I think the dialogue is important. You can't have diplomacy without strong dialogue. And I think it's essential in this case.
And it's -- listen, President Biden has a long history of knowledge and experience on these issues and relationships with a lot of actors around the world. That's a huge asset for us. He knows when to be firm and when to stand up. And he did that today as he did a few weeks ago.
And now, I think it has to be clear, these attacks are unacceptable. We will take action if the -- President Putin doesn't immediately order these attacks to stop and take action himself. And I think it's given what our country is facing on this front. It's essential that this isn't -- that we stand up to these kinds of attacks.
BLITZER: Because the stakes clearly are enormous right now.
Congressman Gottheimer, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.
GOTTHEIMER: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Thank you. We expect, by the way, to hear any moment now from top officials in Surfside, Florida, updating us on the recovery operation at the site of the collapse condo. We're going to bring it to your life. That's coming up fairly soon, we're told.
BLITZER: We're standing by for a news conference on the deadly condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, where the death toll has now risen to 78, 78 confirmed deaths with the recovery of 14 more victims, 62 more people are still listed as missing. CNN's Leyla Santiago is on the scene for us. Leyla, these numbers could change when we hear from officials just within the next few minutes.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. But we've really seen that death toll rise rapidly in the last few days. And that what speaks to how fast this recovery mission is going, how hard this rescue or these recovery crews are working. You know, even just being here today, I can tell you that we've seen a lot of dust in the air as they continue to go through that debris pile. And this as the push continues to ensure the safety of all buildings here.
SANTIAGO (voice-over): Tonight, officials scrambling to ensure the safety of other buildings not far from Champlain Tower South that collapsed in Surfside. Drilling is underway at Champlain Tower North just a block away from its sister building. Engineers are taking samples of concrete for analysis to eventually compare to concrete from the rubble. The city of Surfside is also using ground penetrating radar, GPR, to analyze structure safety. Have you seen anything that has worried you yet?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No Ma'am. But I can't see through concrete. That's why the GPRs and the compressor strength are khaki is important for me to understand.
GUSTAVO MATA, CRESTVIEW TOWER RESIDENT: You know, you see the building, it looks like a normal building.
SANTIAGO (voice-over): In North Miami Beach, residents of Crestview towers had 15 minutes to grab personal belongings from their homes after it was closed and evacuated a week ago, deemed unsafe.
MATA: Just 15 minutes is nothing for us. So we take all that you see over there. So, you know, it's not enough but we have something.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got 17.
SANTIAGO (voice-over): Newly released video from the Champlain Tower South shows the parking deck in July of 2020. CNN asked two engineers to review the video both noted the corrosion but found it difficult to discern anything.
MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: The National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST, has made very significant progress in tagging and transporting pieces of forensic evidence from the pile. They've now collected over 200 pieces of evidence, and they recently deployed a scientist from the physics measurement lab in Washington to assist with analysis.
SANTIAGO (voice-over): As the investigation into the cause of the collapse continues, teams now on a recovery mission continue to search for victims and retrieve their personal belongings, hoping to bring closure to families as soon as possible.
MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: The pile that originally was approximately four or five stories is now almost at ground level. Everything you can imagine has been recovered and processed. This process will continue until every bit of debris has gone through.
SANTIAGO: And Wolf, I can tell you I spoke to an organization that is helping the families who survived transition into new homes. And they told me that they are right now in need of very basic things, things like just putting down a deposit for a new home a laptop, they had some donations of laptops. But it really makes you think about what it will be like for those who are moving forward to establish a new life after this building collapse.
BLITZER: Yes. Our hearts go out to them so, so painful. Leyla, thank you very much. Leyla Santiago, I want you to stand by as well. But let's discuss what's going on with Florida's State CFO and State Fire Marshal, Jimmy Petronis. Jimmy, thanks so much for joining us. We have several important issues to discuss. But first, what's your reaction to that tour of the sister building Champlain Towers North? Is it enough -- is enough being done in other words, to make sure you don't have to respond to yet another disaster?
JIMMY PATRONIS, CFO & FLORIDA STATE FIRE MARSHAL: So the first responders and the urban search and rescue teams have been using Champlain Tower North as basically a template for the lifesaving services they've been administering over the last 16 days. But at the same time, there's also been a lot of work put towards looking at the investigative report that happened on South compared to the North.
You know, looking that also, I've advised them to pull the minutes of Champlain Towers North board over the last 40 years and compare it to the minutes of South and see if both boards have made the same type of investments over the last 40 years, two different associations, two different leaderships, two different levels of investment. So we're, you know, the details will come out.
BLITZER: Yes, both buildings, though built almost around exactly the same time by the same developer, just two or three buildings apart. Let's get to the operation at the collapse site that's ongoing right now, 14 more victims were found overnight, 78 bodies have now been recovered, 68 -- 62 people still missing. What's happening, Jimmy, on this pile that's allowing more and more of these recoveries?
PATRONIS: So now you've got teams working on it from all four sides. In addition to that, the heavy equipment is now because the threat of the deterioration of the building that was standing is no longer a threat, you're able to get heavier equipment down into the areas in the parking garage, to move the large pieces of concrete, which before had to be cut up by hand in order for the cranes to lift it out. So the tools to do the job are now easier to access. And that's why speed has been so much more enhanced.
BLITZER: A firefighter with one of the task forces responding here, tell CNN that the mission remains the same to reunite families with these victims. But he said teams may not necessarily be taking as much of a risk now that they would at the beginning of the operation, when there was still hope of reaching survivors alive now that hope is basically gone. How much has the calculation changed Jimmy at this stage?
PATRONIS: Well, one thing I can assure you is the dogs are still on the site, the infrared equipment is still being used, the cameras are still being used. The task forces that are here from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Virginia, they're the same level of skills that were here with task force one and two, FEMA task forces. So the skill set, the paramedic skills, all those same tools of the trade are still working. What's happening right now is no different than was happening five days ago.
BLITZER: Last night, the Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told me here in the Situation Room, that the death toll could be as high as 140. They're still doing an audit of the people missing. But are you operating under the assumption -- that same assumption, that assumption as well?
PATRONIS: Well, so here's a perfect example. I've heard a story earlier today, where you had a couple of friends that were staying in the condominium. Loved ones didn't know that one was staying with the other so. So again, that's why it's so important that we mine this data, we build a database, we create a manifest of what could be in that building, we have been exploiting every element of state resources that we can to ensure that we get the best data possible, because at the end of the day, there may be insurance claims that take place, I want to make sure families get closure on the emotional side of it. And then for those that are surviving, we'll make sure they get their closure on the financial side.
BLITZER: I know there's -- this horrible development in Surfside has resonated with folks not just in Florida, but all around the country around the world that I know so many people out there would like to help this community but your warning of what you're discovering fraudulent GoFundMe websites that are out there right now, what can you tell us about that?
PATRONIS: Yes, so again, I think GoFundMe is an incredible platform in order to allow people to donate. Over 71 different countries have donated about $1.6 million dollars. Here's the concern. When I give money to GoFundMe, there's no way to verify there's full transparency, that dollar is going to help anybody. So again, I've been -- my plea to GoFundMe is let's create more transparency. You're doing an amazing job getting the money out.
But at the end of the day, GoFundMe is not verifying that the dollars are actually going to those that truly need it. They have admitted that they have closed 71, I mean 21 fraudulent accounts, that's concerning that they had to close 21 of them. So if there's closing 21 just the rule of numbers, there's some bad characters that are using GoFundMe for nefarious reasons. I think GoFundMe needs to be full transparent to make sure that the people get what they need.
BLITZER: Jimmy, hold on. The mayor is now speaking.
PATRONIS: Got it.
CAVA: Search and recovery continued full steam as always today. We recovered another victim. The total number of confirmed deaths is now 79. We've also made more identifications since our last briefing. 53 victims have now been identified and 51 next of kin notifications have been made. Two hundred people are accounted for, 61 people potentially unaccounted for. The team has continued to verify all accounts, cross referencing names against the U.S. Postal Service lists, driver's license lists, the building roster, multiple other databases, we want to get this right.
And the hard work and the ongoing audit has continued, these numbers will continue to change. So after 16 long and extremely difficult days, I'm happy to be able to share a small piece of good news. Thinks, a cat, living on the ninth floor of Champlain Tower South was recently found near the site. And a few hours ago, he was reunited with his family, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and all of us who are so happy to have played a role in returning Thinks with his family.
And I'm glad that this small miracle could bring some light into the lives of our hurting family today and provide a great spot for our whole community in the midst of this terrible tragedy, and we're so very grateful to all of those across our community and the world who've continued to keep us in your prayers and in your hearts.
Finally, tomorrow, I'd like to announce that our press briefing will be once per day 10:00 a.m. going forward. So I hope to see you tomorrow at 10:00.
(Speaking in Foreign Language)
BLITZER: All right, so there you have Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade County with the latest numbers, 79 confirmed dead 61 people still unaccounted for that total still remains 140 people all together. She says these have been 16 very long, very extremely difficult days. But she did say a very small miracle did develop a found a cat, a cat from the ninth floor. And that cat has now been re reunited with family members. A cat did survive the 16 days. We're going to continue to stay on top of the story much more on this coming up in the next hour. We'll speak with the mayor of Surfside. Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're getting new details right now about the shocking assassination of Haiti's presidency. And as Matt Rivers is joining us. He's in Haiti right now. Matt, the White House says FBI and Homeland Security officials that will be arriving in Haiti as soon as possible to help in this investigation. What's the situation first of all there on the ground?
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, I mean, there's a lot of investigating left to be done with Haitian officials seemingly just in the very beginning stages of figuring out exactly what happened here. What we're learning so far is that there's more than two dozen suspects that they've identified about 17 people, maybe 18 people at this point detained. But of all the suspects, 26 of them, Wolf, are Colombian nationals, according to Haitian authorities. Two others are Haitian Americans.
And that's about all we know, when it comes to this investigation. We don't know the motive. We don't know the financing. We don't know the mastermind behind this. And incredibly, we don't know how they managed to make their way to where I am right now. So down this road is where the attackers, the assailants, actually came up the night of the assassination. There's a police checkpoint down that road. It's there 24/7, and yet, two dozen some armed men managed to make their way past it. Then they came here to this police checkpoint right here, that was staffed that night, they managed to make their way past that one. And if you come up this way, I can show you, Wolf, up here, there's a parking lot right down that road, it's about 100 meters or so down the road. That is the beginning of the presidential residential compound here in Port-au-Prince. That is where the assailants made their way into. There was a whole bunch of security inside there. And yet the only people that we know, definitively, publicly, at this point that were injured in all this was the president who ultimately ended up losing his life and the First Lady of Haiti who is currently fighting for her life in a Miami hospital.
So far, no public injuries known to any of the security forces at this point. So how did some two dozen professional mercenaries, as they are described by the Haitian government, get past one checkpoint with the police, a second checkpoint, and a whole bunch of professional protective people that were around the Haitian president has led to a lot of questions in Haiti, about just who is responsible that perhaps it's not only foreign nationals that are suspects here, but there could be Haitians involved as well.
So when those investigators from the United States come down here to Haiti, they certainly have their work cut out for them trying to help Haitian prosecutors figure out just what happened here and how this could happen in the first place, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Matt, stay safe over there. We'll stay in touch with you. Matt Rivers reporting from Port-au-Prince.
Coming up, Richard Branson poised to win the battle of the billionaires to be the first to travel into space.
BLITZER: This Sunday, Richard Branson is poised to boldly go where no billionaire has gone before when he boards the supersonic space plane built by his company Virgin Galactic. Let's get some more from CNN aerospace analysts, Miles O'Brien. He's the science correspondent for the PBS news hour. Miles this flight is set to last what an hour and a half. But is this a whole new approach to reaching space?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST: It is, Wolf, in the sense that first of all, the occupant obviously, carrying a billionaire to space is a new idea. Although a lot of well-heeled space tourists have gone since Dennis Tito first did it in 2001, '07 to be exact. So this is a new way to do it in the sense also, Wolf, that he's being carried aloft by a carrier aircraft, the rocket will separate from the carrier aircraft at 50,000 feet. They like the rocket and they will fly almost vertically straight up to the edge of space. They'll be able to unbuckle, get a few minutes of weightlessness, zero gravity, take a look at the earth and then come back down.
BLITZER: We'll watch the whole thing. What's the risk factor here for Branson and his team, Miles? [17:55:00]
O'BRIEN: Well, you know, this is anytime you're pushing 23, 2,500 miles an hour, and lighting off rockets, you're engaging in a risky endeavor. Richard Branson has a long history of doing risking things, speedboat racing across the Atlantic, hot air ballooning. In both cases, he had to be plucked out of the water by rescue folks. So he knows a little bit about what risk is all about. And he does enjoy the adrenaline that comes with it. But I will say this. He doesn't have a crew escape system there. So well, we're going to watch this and we'll be watching this very closely.
BLITZER: We certainly will. Miles thanks as usual for joining us.
Coming up, mixed messages on the need for a booster shot for people who receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci is standing by live. We'll discuss.