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Cases Rising Among Unvaccinated In Hot Spots Across U.S.; Sources: W.H. & Health Officials Discuss Revising Mask Guidance As Pandemic Rages Among The Unvaccinated; Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) Is Interviewed About Jan. 6 Committee; Trump Calls January 6 "Loving," Rants About Election He Lost In Newly Released Audio; Olympics Opening Ceremony To "Proceed As Planned" Tomorrow Despite More Athletes Testing Positive For COVID-19. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: The ceremony director getting fired for past anti-Semitic comments.

Skyrocketing COVID cases in Tokyo, and at least 20 athletes who have had their life work dashed because of positive COVID tests. Despite all that, the two weeklong Olympics will go on.

And our coverage continues now with Jim Acosta in "The Situation Room."

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Happening now, President Biden and health officials are rethinking mask guidance for vaccinated Americans as the Delta variant rages in largely unvaccinated hotspots.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she's deadly serious about getting to the truth of January 6, despite a Republican boycott of the investigation. And a new suggestion by former President Trump that the rioters were loving.

And we're tracking dozens of dangerous wildfires spreading smoke and haze all the way to the East Coast will turn in the weather make things better or worse.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in the Situation Room.

We begin our coverage this hour with CNN Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny over at the White House.

Jeff, the Biden administration is trying to get its arms around this growing COVID crisis, which is hammering unvaccinated Americans. What additional measures are they considering at this hour?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Biden just a few moments ago, taking questions from reporters in the Roosevelt Room here at the White House was asked that question exactly. And he said we are still following the science on this. Not answering directly if there is going to be some new guidance on masking. Of course, that is really the underlying question here.

We do know from our reporting that White House officials and top health officials are discussing the possibility of revising those masks guidelines for the vaccinated. But Jim, I can tell you the biggest focus here of the pandemic is among the unvaccinated. They're sending more money to rural health centers, they are focusing more money on testing as well. That now, there's more than one pandemic of course, but now it's being focused on those who have not yet gotten the vaccine.


ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, with a Delta variant fueling a resurgence of COVID cases among the unvaccinated the White House and health officials are debating whether to ask those who have already received a vaccine to mask up once again.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've never said that battle is over. It's still ongoing.

ZELENY (voice-over): White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said no decisions have been made by the CDC or the administration to recommend that people who have been vaccinated take new steps to protect themselves from a rising number of breakthrough cases.

PSAKI: It would be more concerning or should be more concerning to all of you and the American people if we were not having those conversations. So, there are certainly conversations about steps we can and should take.

ZELENY (voice-over): CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the U.S. is at another pivotal point in the pandemic, with a Delta variant making up more than 80 percent of new cases in America.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Whether you're vaccinated or not, please know we, together, are not out of the woods yet.

ZELENY (voice-over): To be sure it's affecting Americans in vastly different ways. Florida, Missouri and Texas account for about 40 percent of the spiking cases, as the highly infectious variant rages across areas of the country with low vaccination rates, where people are at greater risk for hospitalization and death.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a pandemic for those who haven't gotten the vaccination. Is that basic that simple.

ZELENY (voice-over): But with just under 50 percent of the country vaccinated and vaccine hesitancy showing few signs of easing, the White House is redoubling its efforts to persuade people to get a COVID shot placing a specific emphasis on rural America.

JEFF ZENTS, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We are announcing that we are sending $100 million to rural health clinics to support vaccine education and outreach efforts in these communities where we are generally seeing low vaccine uptake. ZELENY (voice-over): With the Delta variant showing no signs of slowing, the White House is at a crossroads trying to spark new interest in vaccinations without alarming those who've been vaccinated for months.

BIDEN: What I say to people who are worried about a new pandemic is get vaccinated.

ZELENY (voice-over): While CDC guidance has not changed. Dr. Walensky made clear masking was a personal choice for those who have been vaccinated.

WALENSKY: You should certainly be wearing a mask if you are unvaccinated. You have the opportunity to make the personal choice to add extra layers of protection if such (ph).

ZELENY (voice-over): At the CNN Town Hall last night in Cincinnati, the President suggested the CDC would soon have new recommendations for schoolchildren.

BIDEN: The CDC is going to say that what we should do is everyone over the age of -- under the age of 12 should probably be wearing a mask in school.

ZELENY (voice-over): Several doctors across the country are sounding the alarm about their fears of the next chapter in the pandemic. Alabama Dr. Brytney Cobia sharing her personal experience with patients writing, "One of the last things they do before they're intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I'm sorry, but it's too late."



ZELENY: And President Biden, again, just a few moments ago making clear that this is not a one size fits all problem across the country. In lower vaccination areas, yes, there is a rising uptick in the Delta variant cases, but he's using this as an argument to get vaccinated. Again, this is something that really the White House has been trying to impress upon people.

We saw it in the town hall last evening. We're hearing it from the White House again today. The question is, if any changes to the guidance will happen. President Biden leaving the door open to that. He said a group of some 25 or so federal officials are looking into all of this masking guidance, but that, of course, would apply to those who are vaccinated.

Important to separate that the President now is saying it's a pandemic for the unvaccinated. That's why they're trying to use these rising in a Delta variant to get people the vaccine. We'll see if all this argument again works, Jim. It certainly hasn't up until this point.

ACOSTA: That's right. Get the shot save yourself a trip to the hospital. Jeff Zeleny -- ZELENY: Right.

ACOSTA: -- thanks so much. We appreciate it.

Let's get an update from a major coronavirus hotspot. CNN's Leyla Santiago is joining us from Miami.

Leyla, Florida is leading the nation in new COVID cases. And it's scary. It's getting scary down there.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. For the second week in the row, White House officials said that one in five cases you will find right here in the state of Florida. So yes, they are leading the nation when it comes to the number of new cases.

And then, when you look at hospitalizations, Jim, you will see that they are approaching levels we saw sort of at the height of the pandemic. You know, this morning, we actually went to a testing site where we saw a line of folks going in. We talked to the people who run that site as well, few others here in Miami Dade. And they tell us that they had seen a low in testing and just in the last few weeks, they've seen the demand for testing go up. They attribute that to the rise in cases as well as travel.

Now here, at the Jackson health system where we are, they were tell me that 90 percent of the COVID-19 patients that they are seeing are unvaccinated. Go into the ICU, that's 95 percent of those. So, to put things in perspective, I have spoken this week, Jim, to a COVID-19 unvaccinated patient in the hospital bed, I've spoken to nurses, I've spoken to doctors, and every single one of them are telling me the same thing. There is a level of frustration because of the numbers going up because of the sick patients that they have given that there is enough PPE, there are vaccines and they're just urging people to get vaccinated.

ACOSTA: All right, Leyla Santiago, it's as simple as that. We appreciate it. Thank you so much.

And for more on the surging COVID pandemic, I'm joined by the former Obama White House Health Policy Adviser Dr. Zeke Emanuel.

Dr. Emanuel, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

It's becoming increasingly clear this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. I want to show you something. Let's take a look at these two maps, the areas -- first of all I'll show you this first map. The areas of dark screen that you're seeing right now across the Northeast and parts of the Midwest of the country have the highest vaccination rates.

Now let's show the second map. This shows you the light yellow sections show where cases are not going up as much. Once again, in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest, there is a correlation, there is a connection.

Dr. Emanuel, as we are going to, you know, as we're going through these maps and looking at the data, are we going to continue to see cases concentrated in areas where people aren't getting the vaccine, do you think?

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE HEALTH POLICY ADVISER: We are going to see many more cases in areas where people haven't gotten the vaccine. But that's not to say that places where you have 60 percent or 70 percent of the population or even higher vaccinated, you won't see some upswing. We do know that people who have been vaccinated can get Delta. What we probably won't see is in those areas increase in hospitalization, increase in mortality, because the vaccine while it doesn't 100 percent prevent people from getting infected with COVID does seem to prevent people from getting very sick, or ending up in the hospital, and God forbid dying.

And so, I do think we're going to see many more of these upcoming surges in those areas that you have indicated where there's been a lot of resistance to vaccination.

ACOSTA: And that's the important point, and we can go back to that graphic, those two graphics one more shot -- one more time and show people again, those dark green areas in the northeast and in the Midwest. Those are areas where people are fully vaccinated as a percentage of the population, a higher percentage of people are fully vaccinated. But when you show this other map, we put that up on screen, of the coronavirus cases you're seeing a surge in areas where you have less vaccination where you have lower vaccination rates.


I get what you're saying Dr. Emanuel that, yes, of course, in areas where people are vaccinated where there are high vaccination rates, people are still going to occasionally catch COVID. But it seems like, and correct me if I'm wrong, the much more serious cases, the higher prevalence of those serious cases, that's going to be in the areas where you have lower vaccination rates by and large.

EMANUEL: Jim, you must have become a doctor in the interim from when we last spoke, because I think you've explained it extremely well. Let me also say that within any big city, whether it's New York or Chicago or Washington, D.C., there will be micro environments, where --

ACOSTA: Of course.

EMANUEL: -- a community has not gotten well vaccinated, and that community is susceptible to this very contagious Delta variant. And so, you could see within small areas of otherwise very well vaccinated communities some outbreaks because a large swath of people in those micro environments have not gotten vaccinated. And that, again, that's a concern, it can -- it probably won't overwhelm the hospital systems because you have capacity, but it could dramatically increase the number of people who are sick in that community. And that's, again, a tragedy.

We have the solution to this problem as the President says. He's pleading with people. And it is surprising how many find -- how many people find excuses not to get vaccinated. ACOSTA: Yes.

EMANUEL: When you have something so effective, it's readily accessible, go into a pharmacy. It's free, you don't have to pay for it. What more do we have to do for these people?

ACOSTA: And you're hardly have to wait in line anymore. But the White House is now having to deal with this problem. And the White House is considering asking vaccinated Americans to put their masks back on, which is obviously going to annoy the heck out of everybody. Do you think it is time for the CDC to change these guidelines again? What do you think?

EMANUEL: So Jim, honestly, I have not really taken my mask off. I go outside and walk, I still have my mask. I certainly when I go into the post office or the grocery store or the pharmacy or any other place --

ACOSTA: Yes, but what about everybody else --

EMANUEL: -- I put my mask on.

ACOSTA: -- Dr. Emanuel, because, you know, honestly, I think asking people when they go outside to put their mask on when they're fully vaccinated, that's asking too much. What I'm hearing from health experts is if you're in confined spaces like elevators, on airplanes, that sort of thing, you're going to be better protected with a mask.

EMANUEL: So, I went to a meeting indoors the other day, two days ago, and I wore my mask the whole time inside. I think that's absolutely, you know, it's added protection.

We spent the last 18 months fending off COVID, it's not taking too much to wear a mask, it's not that onerous. And I do think it adds a little bit extra of protection.

Now, if you're vaccinated, even if you got the new Delta variant, you wouldn't be terribly sick, likely, but that's still, you know, you still don't want to get sick, and you certainly don't want to spread it if you happen to get it.

ACOSTA: And what -- and let me ask you this, the daily pace of becoming fully vaccinated against COVID-19 just hit its lowest point since January, what do you say to people who are vaccinated and look at the prospect of having to mask up indoors again, and ask why am I being punished for this? Because that is what people are saying right now is why did I go through the trouble of getting vaccinated if I have to put this mask on? I'm asking this question, knowing the answer, which is you're not going to get seriously ill, but in lighten us.

EMANUEL: Well, I think that's half the answer, you're not going to get seriously ill. And that is one of the huge benefits of this vaccine and shows that it's effective. But the other is, it does remind us, Jim, that this is an infectious disease, and we're all in it together, and that what your neighbors do affects you.

ACOSTA: That's right.

EMANUEL: And this isn't just individual responsibility, this is community responsibility. What I do affects my family, it affects the people around me, it affects my colleagues, it affects the country. And that's something, you know, we have to recognize more. We're getting vaccinated for ourselves, but also for all the other people we interact with.

ACOSTA: And if we can get everybody vaccinated, then we don't have to worry about those crazy masks that we all are sick of.

EMANUEL: It will then be in the rearview mirror.


EMANUEL: And that's the main way, that's the fastest way to get over COVID is for everyone who hasn't been vaccinated to get vaccinated. We have more than enough vaccine. That's not the issue.

ACOSTA: All right. Dr. Zeke Emanuel, thanks so much for that.

And coming up, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is on the hunt for additional Republicans to join the January 6 committee. We have new details on who she's considering. Stay with us here in the Situation Room.



ACOSTA: Speaker Nancy Pelosi is on the lookout for additional Republicans to join the January 6 committee after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled every GOP member off of that panel. Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is tracking all of the latest developments on Capitol Hill for us.

How is the Speaker search going for these other Republicans? Do we have a sense if anybody's going to be joining Liz Cheney?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It seems very possible. She is considering adding Congressman Adam Kinzinger as part of the members who are investigating the January 6 insurrection. Of course, she did name Liz Cheney, as you mentioned, one of eight of her selections now that there are no Republican selections that came from Kevin McCarthy, there are those vacancies. And that adding Adam Kinzinger has support among the Democratic members of the committee as well as Liz Cheney, who said that he would be a great addition.

Now also, that she is thinking about allowing an outside advisor, Republican outside advisor to comment as well. Former Congressman Denver Riggleman met with Democratic leadership staff earlier today in speaker Nancy Pelosi's office to talk about potentially serving in some sort of role in -- on the January 6 investigative committee. We'll see if that happens.

[17:20:19] Now, at the same time, Kevin McCarthy himself sidestepped questions when I asked him earlier today about whether or not why there was any concerns about having Republicans join Democrats as part of this investigation.


RAJU: In your view, what is so wrong with having Liz Cheney and potentially Adam Kinzinger serve on the select committee? Potentially, they could provide some level of ideological balance to this committee. What is wrong with having one or two members of your conference join with Democrats to investigate what happened here?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: You know it and we predicted it back at the very beginning. This is a sham committee that's just politically driven by Speaker Pelosi.


RAJU: Now, at the same time, there are some questions now about whether Liz Cheney will face any blowback internally loss a potential committee assignment for taking the spot from Nancy Pelosi. Currently, Liz Cheney serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

But we are hearing from multiple sources that House Republican leaders are signaling that they are unlikely to take the action of punishing Liz Cheney further. Of course, Jim, as you know, she lost that number three spot in the leadership over a fight with Donald Trump, but further sanctions for joining with Nancy Pelosi over Kevin McCarthy as part of this investigative committee does not seem like she's going to face any further consequences. We'll see if that changes, but Republicans at the moment see taking that step will be a distraction as they try to take back Congress next year. Jim.

ACOSTA: Yes, Manu, those hearings haven't started yet, so maybe too soon to say one way or the other on that front runner.

Manu Raju, thanks so much for that.

Let's get reaction now, though, from Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

If the House Speaker decides to add Congressman Kinzinger or Republican staffers like Denver Riggleman to this committee, how much of a difference would that make with people who continue to deny what happened on January 6? Would it really go that far of convincing these very Trump Republicans?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): I think the message from the Speaker is she's bending over backwards to try to get something done to find out the truth. I think my Republican colleagues have chosen power over truth and party over country. And first she offered them a nonpartisan, independent commission, and they voted against that. Then she offered this, which was the only choice left, they're refusing to participate. There's not much left she can do other than find those Republicans who take this seriously, whether they're seated members or not.

ACOSTA: And can Democrats really claim this is a bipartisan committee if the Republicans who end up serving are some of the most prominent anti-Trump members in Congress? Or do you really have a choice at this point?

QUIGLEY: There's nobody left in the room, 175 Republicans voted against an independent commission. There are deniers in the caucus, that they that the riot even took place. They voted against the select committee, they voted against a lawful election.

So, you know, it's not as if the Speaker has a mighty hall pointing to door number three. She's got two choices, do nothing at all and the truth will never be found out or find Republicans who are willing to seek the truth to help prevent it from happening in the future.

ACOSTA: And what does it tell you the Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, one of the very first witnesses who will testify before this select committee Tuesday, is already coming under attack from conservative media. I don't have to tell you the names of those personalities on certain outlets, but they are attacking Harry Dunn, accusing him of being a liberal activist and so on. What do you make of those charges?

QUIGLEY: You know, it's tough. You know, my group was one of the last groups that was escorted out of the room, you know, the room where it happened. And there were officers holding guns on those who are attacking us as that was taking place. I'm here and I'm safe because of those officers.

We lost two officers. Hundreds were -- 100 were -- over 100 were injured. We should be thanking Officer Dunn.

And Officers Dunn, thank you. And I apologize for the entire country for the abuse you took, and all the other officers who took this abuse. And the least we can do is find out what took place and pass a security supplemental, which will help keep you safe in the job that you do so well.

ACOSTA: And on a different issue, COVID cases are surging, but nearly half of your Republican House colleagues still won't say publicly whether they've been vaccinated. What message does that send to their constituents? And have you asked any of your Republican colleagues have you been vaccinated? Did this ever come up in conversation?


QUIGLEY: You know, it does occasionally, and I have no idea why they don't want to answer. I mean, there's at least two good reasons for members --

ACOSTA: I guess, I mean, do they privately tell you, yes, I'm vaccinated, but I don't want to say -- QUIGLEY: Some do, and some won't. But look, there's at least two

reasons for a member of Congress to do it. To protect themselves, their family, and everyone they come in contact with, but also to set an example, right?

Vaccinations have plateaued, you can save lives. This is no longer some political game. It is a very dangerous game you're playing, and you got to cut it out.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. Cut it out. Go get the shot. Save lives. It's a great message.

All right, Congressman Mike Quigley, thank you so much.

And up next, President Trump downplays the Capitol Riot calls the crowds loving. You'll hear him in his own words. Twisted words. Next.



ACOSTA: Tonight, we have a chilling new insight into former President Donald Trump's departure from reality. This comes from an audio recording. Trump made this past March and released by Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker of The Washington Post. It was made for their newly published book, "I Alone Can Fix It". Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was a lot of love. I've heard that from everybody. Many, many people told me that was a loving crowd. And, you know, it was too bad, it was too bad that, you know, that they did that.


TRUMP: But my statement --

LEONNIG: But Mr. President, I apologize, what we're trying to understand is, not blame, not castigate --

TRUMP: No, I understand that.

LEONNIG: We want to understand, what did you want when you said go up there? What would you have dreamed for them to do?

TRUMP: I would have said to them that you will show -- not to go in. Although, they were ushered in by the police. I mean, in all fairness, the Capitol Police were ushering people in. The Capitol Police were very friendly. You know, they were hugging the kissing. You don't see that. But there's plenty of tape on that too, you know, because the Capitol Police were -- that's the way it is.

But I wanted -- I mean, personally, what I wanted is what they wanted. They showed up just to show support because I happen to believe the election was rigged at a level like nothing has ever been rigged before.


ACOSTA: Let's bring in CNN's Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter. Brian, I cannot get over how delusional this sounds. I mean, the lies, I mean, it's just nuts. But does it sound like the former president is emboldened to spin even more outrageous lies about January 6, the more time passes since that deadly attack? We see this video day after day, it just sounds delusional to listen to what he's saying.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: But emboldened is the word. I think that is why this is relevant. We are seeing him over time, dig in further and further and further. And lie is on this level, or like a power trip. They are a challenge to the audience. Lies on this level, delusions on this level, you know, you're daring people not to believe their own eyes and ears --

ACOSTA: Right.

STELTER: -- not to leave this videotape. You're daring people to deny what they actually know to be true. And when you do that, when you challenge someone, when they go along with it, when they buy into your lies, you have power over them. It is a propaganda technique that we are seeing Trump employ in this situation.

And the more time goes on, the less of these videos are seen on Fox, the fewer these videos are seen on Newsmax, the memories do fade in right-wing media. They exist certainly in the rest of the country. But the memories are fading within the MAGA base. And so he's able, I think, to exert more power by becoming more emboldened with the lies, Jim.

ACOSTA: Yes, he's inviting his supporters to go and live in this cult like alternate reality that he inhabits. And I just want to ask you this, how much more dangerous could he be if he still had his old platforms, Facebook and Twitter? I can't imagine allowing him on any of these platforms. He would be lying right now as we speak about what happened on January 6.

STELTER: Well, that's very interesting, because that would give him a much more direct path to the public and so what he does, he occasionally calls in to his favorite shows, and he's giving interviews to lots of these authors, in part, to get his voice out there. And I think when we're airing this audio, we're certainly wrapping it in context, showing people the real video, so they know that what he's saying is baloney, or actually much worse than baloney, it's like this poison to food that you should not eat.

But I think what he's doing is he's trying to find alternate ways to reach people because he doesn't have those platforms. And we know he's given interviews for more than a dozen of these books. So we're hearing about the tapes from "I Alone Can Fix It". But there are going to be more.

You know, Jim, during the Trump years when he was in office, I remember James Fallows popularized an idea about lack of accountability, that any other figure, if they were this delusional, would be held accountable. If the CEO of a company was this delusional, the board would hold a meeting about it.

ACOSTA: Right.

STELTER: If an airline pilot was this delusional, the airline would bench the person. If an engineer was this delusional, they'd be pulled off the job. What's interesting is, of course, when he was in the White House, there was nobody to step in other than perhaps with the impeachment process.

Now, we're in this situation where this is a de facto leader of a political party who is this delusional and we all can see it because we hear the tapes, we all know it, but there's no function of accountability. It's not as if the RNC is holding an emergency meeting to figure out what to do about the mental health of its de facto leader --

ACOSTA: No, and as a matter of --

STELTER: -- instead they encourage it.

ACOSTA: That's right. And as a matter of fact, there are leaders of the Republican Party who are going up to Bedminster or down to Mar-a- Lago and visit with him.


ACOSTA: And they embolden that behavior.


ACOSTA: They make that behavior worse because they will continue to kiss up to him.


Let me ask you this, so many Republicans are trying to whitewash over President Trump's role from January 6, but then you have Trump saying about the insurrectionists, quote, what I wanted is what they wanted. I mean, that's pretty close to, you know, just putting it out there, isn't it?

STELTER: He's making remarks that if this was in a different setting, if this was in a courtroom setting, if this was in a legal context, you would think he would be doing more damage to his case. Now, will we ever be at that point with a grudge (ph) January 6? Perhaps not. Perhaps he's free to tell whatever truths or lies he wants, and there will be no accountability. But, you know, if this was a situation where there was a lawyer involved, they will be cautioning their client not to be making those confessions.

By the way, I think these tapes remind us how little we still know about the President's behavior that day.

ACOSTA: That's right. STELTER: We're hearing from Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker about him enjoying watching this on television. They think (ph) it was cool. But there's still a lot we don't know about those key hours during the attack.

ACOSTA: And that is why having a bipartisan commission or at least a committee investigate all of this is so critical to getting at the truth. How else are we going to get at the truth if we don't investigate what happened including the former president's role?

Brian Stelter, thanks so much. And be sure --

STELTER: Thank you.

ACOSTA: -- to tune in to Brian's program, "Reliable Sources", it airs every Sunday morning at 11:00. Don't miss it.

And just ahead, officials for the Summer Olympics say tomorrow's opening ceremonies will take place as planned. But will the gains turn into a super spreader event? We're live from Tokyo, next.



ACOSTA: It's already Friday morning in Tokyo, the long-awaited day of the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games. Some competitions already are underway. And as feared, we're not only asking who won, but also who's sick with COVID-19.

Let's go to Tokyo and CNN's Will Ripley who is live there. What's the latest, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the First Lady Jill Biden has had a busy schedule since she has arrived. She is a very visible show of support for these games, which continues to be under fire from many health experts as the number of COVID infections continues to rise.


RIPLEY (voice-over): As the opening ceremony clock ticks down, COVID cases are ticking up. In Tokyo, a new six-month high, close to 2,000 cases on Thursday. The number also climbing among Olympic hopefuls, at least five Team USA athletes are out, at least 16 from other nations. Almost 100 total positive cases connected to the Olympics.

COVID-related cutbacks at the opening ceremony now just hours away, far fewer athletes in the Parade of Nations and a new scandal. The show's Director Kentaro Kobayashi, the fourth Olympics official fired or forced to resign. Japanese media uncovering past anti-Semitic statements about the Holocaust, Tokyo 2020's President offering a rare public apology.

SEIKO HASHIMOTO, TOKYO 2020 PRESIDENT (through translation): I would like to express my deepest apologies for the inconvenience and concern this situation has caused to the many people involved, to the citizens of Tokyo and the public.

RIPLEY (voice-over): With problems piling up, an injection of very public support from U.S. first lady Jill Biden. Dr. Biden arriving in Tokyo, her first solo trip abroad as First Lady. Japanese Emperor Naruhito meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach, recognizing the enormous challenge of holding the games during a global pandemic.

NARUHITO, JAPANESE EMPEROR: The managing of the games, the magnitude of the gains, while at the same time taking all possible measures against COVID-19 is a far from easy task.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Bach seemingly backtracking on whether political activism is allowed at the games. Several women's soccer teams taking a knee prior to their matches, including Team USA.

THOMAS BACH, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE PRESIDENT: It is allowed, there's no violation of the Rule 50. This is explicitly what has been mentioned in these guidelines.

RIPLEY (voice-over): The 32nd Summer Olympiad shaping up to be like none other. The U.N. Secretary General putting a positive spin on a games some fear could spin out of control.

ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: We are all in mourning for those loss to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every athlete in Tokyo has overcome enormous obstacles and demonstrated great determination. If we bring that same energy to all global challenges, we can achieve anything.


RIPLEY: We are now just over 13 hours away from the beginning of the opening ceremonies which are expected to have fewer participants and will last longer because of social distancing during the Parade of Nations. Nonetheless, it should be a spectacle. They've been flying the drones in the air. They've had jets practicing during the Olympic rings in the air.

And Jim, even though public opinion polls show most Japanese overwhelmingly don't want these games to happen, we saw a long line of people taking selfies at the Olympic rings, voicing their support for these games and hoping that once they get started, case numbers will stabilize and people can just relax and enjoy.

ACOSTA: And just enjoy the Olympics. Let's hope it all goes off without too many cases over there.

Will Ripley, thanks so much for watching that for us.

And China, of course, is where the coronavirus was first detected and now the Chinese are blocking an international efforts to discover more about where it showed up. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is monitoring the developments from London. Tell us more.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Jim, China's statement this day that it was no longer going to allow the WHO to continue its investigations into the origins of the coronavirus inside of China. It's what many expected but a particularly harsh statement, saying that the plan of WHO had was impossible to be accepted, that it was against science and that it didn't respect common sense. A red line frankly, there from China accused by its critics, of lacking transparency from the start, frankly, and slow-rolling the investigation. But this is utterly vital, frankly, for humanity to work out where the disease emerged.

The WHO shows leader has been vocally advocating the need to do greater research into the lab leak theory, the idea it was leaked from laboratory in Wuhan.


But really the investigators want to get the whole (ph) data in China from October, November 2019 to work out exactly when and where the virus got into humans first so we can stop this from happening again. But today's harsh statement unless we see remarkable diplomacy or a trick of the light in the months ahead does mean the investigation, but WHO is over in China, now over to the Biden administration's review in mid-August of its intelligence to work out quite what the United States knows. Jim?

ACOSTA: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, thanks so much.

And coming up, the devastating wildfires in the Western United States are spreading smoke and haze all the way across the continent. When will air quality as far as the East Coast finally improve?



ACOSTA: Wildfires burning mostly in the Western U.S. now are making an impact from coast-to-coast. Let's go to CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater. Tom, what are these fires doing to the whole country? It is alarming. What's happening.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It really is. And it's early, Jim. And the forecast does not look good. I mean, obviously we're in summer but the temperatures have been extreme, and it's all of North America really, believe it or not. The smoke that made its way into New York City is affecting the air quality in Iceland right now.

Let's take a look, 79 active large fires. We had about 84, 85 earlier in the week, but there are many, many smaller ones. California has seen over 5,200 fires. It scorched now five times more land this year than last year to this date.

However, take a look at this. This is the air quality, the worst air quality in New York City yesterday in 15 years. And we can break it down by looking at where the winds will blow the smoke. This is all the fires you see in the West, but it's Canada too. They've got massive large fires in the British Columbia, and Alberta and Manitoba. Firefighters from Quebec are flying all the way out to help them. But watch the smoke then make its way to the east. And then a cold front sweeps through massive rain fall, cleaning the skies in New York City in the surrounding communities. But now that cold front has pushed everything down to the southeastern U.S., in the Tennessee Valley. In fact, you can kind of see that little horseshoe there. That's basically the jet stream.

Now these are air quality points. You want to see green, that's good air quality. Where you see yellow, if you're sensitive, you have respiratory issues, you start to feel it. Where you see areas of orange, that's when they start to give out and put out the alerts. We have it now for Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, down into North Carolina.

But now the forecast, watch the smoke moved down into Georgia, moving to Alabama and then it hangs out for a while. The smoke is going to just stay where the winds are calm. And you'll notice it more or less with a hazy sky and sunrises and sunsets. But Jim, this is what we do not want. Precipitation does look really heavy for the desert southwest but temperature wise, all of North America will see even higher temperatures in the next several days and the weeks to come. That heat dome, which has been moving around slides now into the Midwest.

This is going to be a bad year and last year was record-breaking.

ACOSTA: It sure looks that way. All right, Tom Sater, thank you very much for that.

And tonight, the Biden administration is hitting Cuba with new sanctions in the wake of historic anti-government protests there on the island. CNN National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood is joining us with details. Kylie, give us an update. What's the latest?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So the State Department today, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said that these sanctions were to go after those who were violently repressing the protesters in Cuba. There are two groups that were named today, specifically the minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and then also this elite Cuban Special Forces Group. Their name is the Buenos -- sorry, the Boinas Negras. They are a group that has been on the streets in Cuba, especially -- essentially a Special Forces unit that has been trying to shut down these demonstrators and doing so violently.

And what Secretary Blinken said today in his statement was the fact that they have used violence to try and shut down these protesters demonstrates that the Cuban regime is fearful of their own people. Now, these new sanctions today show that the Biden administration is publicly defining those who are involved in this repression and in these violent crackdowns. And this will be an area to watch because the Biden administration is carrying out a holistic review of its Cuba policy right now.

And there is a lot of pressure from folks on the hill with regards to where they should go with this policy review. And if they should engage with Cuba in the way that the Obama administration did or if they should maintain a tougher stance like the Trump administration did.

ACOSTA: All right. We'll see if these sanctions have any effect. The Cuban people deserve better than this.

Kylie Atwood, thank you very much for that.

And coming up, the White House is weighing new COVID measures as the pandemic rages among the unvaccinated, the unvaccinated. Will the CDC update its masking guidance once again?



ACOSTA: Happening now, the danger from the Delta variant prompts top Biden officials to revisit mask guidance where they reverse course and urge vaccinated Americans to mask up again. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defends her decision to boot two GOP election deniers from the January 6 committee calling them ridiculous choices. Tonight, she's eyeing another Republican for the panel.

And we're getting a new window into former president Donald Trump's bogus and offensive claims about the insurrection as he describes the January 6 crowd as loving.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta, and you're in The Situation Room.

We begin this hour with the Biden administration's evolving response to the Delta variant threat. Our Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is at the White House. Jeff, the pandemic is largely impacting unvaccinated Americans, unvaccinated Americans, but people who've got their shots may be urged to put their masks back on. What can you tell us?

JEFF ZELENY, CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Biden is saying that his health experts are looking into every aspect of potentially changing guidance that would include masks. No change yet but they are looking into this. But I can tell you, the White House is focusing far more of its attention and energy on the unvaccinated trying to use this rising Delta variant.