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White House COVID Response Team Holds Briefing; Nationwide Mask Mandate for Public Transportation Begins Tonight; Soon: Biden Meets with 10 GOP Senators to Discuss COVID Relief. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 1, 2021 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us this hour.

We are standing right now for an update from the White House coronavirus response team. They are set to be holding a briefing including updates that will be coming from Dr. Fauci, as well as the new CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. We're going to bring you that as soon as it begins.

And this comes at a critical point in the fight against the virus. As experts are warning that the country is now in a race against time and also simultaneously at a crossroads. With new variants popping up across the country and a vaccine distribution effort that is still plagued with delays and uncertainty. Leading one top infectious disease expert to warn of this.

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DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY: The fact is that the surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next six to 14 weeks. And if we see that happen, which my 45 years in the trenches us we will. We are going to see something like we have not seen yet in this country.

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BOLDUAN: And hard to imagine after the year that we have all been through. At the very same time, the extreme financial toll that the pandemic has taken on almost every American is also in the spotlight today.

In just a few hours, 10 Republican senators will be meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House to talk about the COVID relief package that he has been pushing. The group of senators has offered Biden a counter proposal, they offered it over the weekend, a scaled down package with about a third of the overall price tag that then the -- than the President Biden package and that he has been pushing for. And that he also says the country's current emergency demands. The president has said that he wants bipartisan support for this emergency relief. But can they get there? Especially when much of the current pandemic aid is going to be running out next month.

Let's get the very latest on all of this. Let's start. CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill and Jeremy Diamond is joining us from the White House. Lauren, can you lay out for us what Republicans are offering here and how far apart they are?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they're pretty far apart, Kate. But I will tell you, this is a really a last- ditch effort at bipartisanship. What you saw over the weekend is Republicans coming out with a plan that cost about $600 billion. Like you said, that is just a fraction of the $1.9 trillion plan that Biden's team put together and is hoping to pass through Congress.

Now, there are some significant differences. One of them, of course, is the fact that this Republican plan does not include money for state and local governments. That was a key sticking point back in December when lawmakers were negotiating the what became a $900 billion plan that passed and was signed by former President Trump.

Now the other key sticking points remain differences in how to structure unemployment insurance, as well as how much money to give to individual Americans in the form of those stimulus checks and who should receive them. Republicans are arguing those need to be more targeted checks than what Biden's team originally had in their proposal.

Now the question becomes, how far is President Biden willing to go to negotiate with Republicans. Remember, Senate Democrats and House Democrats were poised potentially to pass a budget resolution as soon as this week. That would really unlock their ability to pass a bill through Congress without any Republican votes.

So, the key question remains, whether or not Biden wants to stick to his pledge on unity or whether or not he views this Republican package as just too small and he needs to go ahead and go alone, with just Democrats. Kate?

BOLDUAN: So, Jeremy, that is why all eyes this afternoon turned to the White House. Are you hearing anything this morning from the White House about this, about the path forward or what is expected to happen when the president meets with this group?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, there are two things that are clear. The first of which is that Joe Biden would like a bipartisan deal if he can get it. And he's genuine in his calls for unity and his appeals to Republican members of Congress to try and work with him on this $1.9 trillion package.

The second thing that is clear though, $600 billion isn't going to cut it for this White House or for the president.

And so, even as we have Joe Biden inviting these 10 Republican senators over to the White House today for what is expected to be a good-faith discussion and negotiation over this coronavirus relief package, it is very clear that $600 billion is a nonstarter here.

Here is what is in Biden's $1.9 trillion plan. You have those $1,400 stimulus payments, more unemployment aid, aid for states and local governments as well as for schools and of course the funding for vaccines.

[11:05:03]

Now, the White House has made very clear that they are willing to negotiate in particular on those stimulus checks and on reducing the income cap there to make sure that it is going to those who really need the aid. But at the same time, they are in insisting, as we saw Brian Deese, the White House top economic adviser, just yesterday insisting that so many of these elements of this package, that they're all essential and they see them as part of the whole in terms of helping the economy that is currently in crisis.

So, we will see Joe Biden invite these Republicans over today. But to be clear, they are not going to go for this $600 billion idea. The question is whether this allows for further discussions and if Joe Biden is willing to come down from his $1.9 trillion amount, and if it is going to be enough to get Republicans to actually move forward with these negotiations. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, and overlooking all of this is when you have experts like Janet Yellen saying that the risk is not of doing too much, the real risk here of is doing too little and that has to kind of be in the part of the back drop when both places where you guys are. On Capitol Hill and what they are - can -- can stomach and at the White House and how much they're going to give.

Good to see you guys. Thank you very, very much.

Also happening later today, we have new travel rules are going to be going into effect. Anyone traveling into or within the country will be required to wear a mask on nearly all forms of public transportation.

CNN's Pete Muntean, he is following all of this. He is joining us right now. So, Pete, what do people need to know about this?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, workers have been wanting this for months. They have been the ones responsible for enforcing mask rules laid out by airlines and airports. But now the TSA will start requiring masks here at security, but it says also throughout the entire transportation system. Public and commercial. That includes planes, trains, buses, boats, taxis and ride shares.

Also, here in the airport, and at transportation hubs regardless of what mode of transportation is being considered here. You know this all really goes into effect 11:59 p.m. tonight.

The TSA says it could deny people boarding if they're violating this rule. And for the first time ever we're hearing about civil penalties for violators. It is a pretty big shift for the recourse that airlines have had here. They've really only been able to deny people boarding, but also ban them from flying on their flights again.

Delta has banned about 900 people for not wearing masks on its flights alone. You know, policy is really being driven here by politics. The Trump administration had plenty of opportunities to act here but failed to do so. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Pete, got to jump. Thank you so much for that reporting.

Let's jump over to the White House where we're now looking at the CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky with a COVID update.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Cases remain at elevated level. So, let's start with the cases.

Through January 30th, 25.9 million COVID-19 cases have been reported to the CDC. During the week of January 24th to January 30th, a seven- day average of new cases decreased 14.5 percent to 149,000 cases per day.

The seven-day average of new hospital admissions for patients with COVID-19 during the week of January 23rd to January 29th also decreased by 14.6 percent to 11,800 admissions per day. However, 85,655 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on January 29th.

Through January 30th, 438,035 deaths have been reported to the CDC. During the week of January 24th to January 30th, the seven-day average of deaths increased 2.4 percent to 3,146 per day.

While the recent decline in cases and hospital admissions are encouraging, their count counterbalanced by the stark reality that in January we recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in any months since the pandemic began with over 90,000 deaths recorded in January alone.

Next, I want to give you an update on COVID-19 variants surveillance. Variants remain a great concern and we continue to detect them in the United States with at least 33 jurisdictions reporting 471 variant cases as of January 31st. 467 of these cases are now B117 variants first detected in the UK, and cases of this variant have now been detected in 32 states. Three of the cases are the B1351 variant first detected in South Africa. Two states have reported cases of this variant. This includes one confirmed case in Maryland over the weekend and two confirmed cases from South Carolina last week.

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CDC has followed up with Maryland to offer technical assistance, including additional case investigation and laboratory support. CDC is also a working with the health department of South Carolina to provide laboratory support for local contact tracing activities related to the two cases there.

Finally, there's also one case of the P1 variant for one first detected in Brazil, which has been confirmed in one state, Minnesota. CDC is not currently providing technical assistance in this case but stands ready to assist if the state requests. CDC has been working on multiple fronts to improve our ability to adapt and understand these variants and the recent rise in the number of variants detected in the United States is likely due at least in part to our expanded ability to sequence virus samples.

Since November, state health departments and other public health agencies have been sending virus samples to CDC for sequencing and further analysis. This system called National SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance or NS3 continues to be scaled up.

We've also established contracts with large commercial lab partners to conduct much of this work. They are currently analyzing 3,000 samples per week and have committed to analyzing 6,000 samples per week by mid-February.

As a result of these efforts, our throughput of sequences has increased tenfold in the recent weeks, going from 251 sequences that were -- sequenced during the week of January 10th to 2,238 sequences that were done during the week of January 24th.

Additionally, CDC is collaborating with seven universities that are working with public health agencies to identify variants. And we have provided $15 million in COVID-19 supplemental funding to several health departments in the United States to accelerate the integration of next generation sequencing and bioinformatics into the US public health system.

Finally, we are leading a coalition of 200 cross sector organizations to set standards and share information about SARS-CoV-2 sequence-based surveillance. This is a good start. However, we recognize that more resources and capacity are needed to increase our country's sequencing surveillance and outbreak analytics capacity at the levels demanded by this crisis. Overall, this means with the support of these activities, we will now be able to sequence at least 7,000 samples weekly.

With cases high and variants emerging, I want to stress to the American people the importance of taking a few simple actions we can all take to protect each other and to stop the spread of COVID-19.

First, wear a mask, stay six feet apart when you are in public and around others who do not live in your household.

Second, please avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas.

Third, now is not the time to travel, but if you must travel, you must wear a mask and follow other CDC and local guidance in order to protect yourself and others while you travel.

And finally, please get vaccinated when it's your turn.

More than 25 million people have now received at least one dose of the COVID 19 vaccine in the United States and our latest safety data continue to show that vaccines are safe with no new safety signals and rates of rare serious adverse events like anaphylaxis comparable to other vaccines. When we take these actions, there is less virus spreading and the conditions that produce variants are decreased. Thank you. I look forward to your questions in a few minutes, and I will now turn it over to Dr. Fauci.

Dr. Fauci?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I'd like to address three separate points very briefly and then we could leave that open for questions and discussions.

As you know, last week with the data that came out from the J&J Janssen vaccine trial, as well as information from the Novavax trial. I think it is important for people to appreciate that we now have the three separate vaccine platforms, MRNA, soluble recombinant protein and viral vectors, in the mix right now.

Obviously, the J&J will be putting their information into the FDA for an application for an emergency use authorization. The reason I bring this up is that as these things roll out, they will have different degrees of what's called point vaccine efficacy.

So we know that we had a 72 percent overall efficacy in the United States for the J&J, but important to point out when people ask about the difference between 72 and 94, 95 with the Moderna and the Pfizer is the fact that when you look at serious disease, hospitalizations and deaths, it has had a profound effect on that.

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So, as we get into the next weeks and months and more vaccines come out, there may be different - there would be common use of them in the big pool of vaccines, not only for the United States, but worldwide. But there may be some advantages that you might see with one versus the other.

For example, the idea of a single dose, the lack of a very strict cold chain, as well as the availability of having a large number of doses. So, I just bring that to your attention.

Now, Dr. Walensky mentioned the issue of variants, and there's a real relationship now between the vaccines that have already been given an EUA, those that will get any UAE and how we address the variants.

When the variants were first recognized in South Africa and in the UK and in Brazil, one of the important things that one does is take a serum from individuals who have been vaccinated with the available vaccines and see how well they do against the variants.

What became clear is that with regard to the variant, namely the 117, that was a variant that was predominant in the UK, there was very little impact on that. And actually, that was shown by the Novavax study, which was done in the UK when they had a 90 percent efficacy and the dominant variant there was the 117.

So, you would expect that it reflected what you would see. But we do know that antigenic variation does have clinical consequences because when you looked at the South African isolates, namely the 351, that one had a multifold diminution in the efficacy of antibodies induced by various vaccines that are in use now, but it was still within the cushion level of providing some protection. The reason that was important is that that was reflected in the J&J trials.

So, we're learning not only that we have more vaccines, but we're learning about the virus and how it interacts with our ability to protect with vaccines. Because when you look at advanced disease, hospitalizations and deaths, there was a profoundly positive effect by the vaccine, even though the effect numerically was diminished.

So, for example, there was about virtually no hospitalizations or deaths in there. Now getting to the third point, which I believe is important and relates to what Dr. Walensky said, that it is important even when you have a variant circulating in which you may not have a 95 percent efficacy to prevent infection, it is very important that you might very, very positively prevent serious illness and serious disease.

We've been asked questions often. Well, if you have these variants and they seem to be alluding the vaccine a little, should we really be getting vaccines, or should we wait for the next generation of vaccines? The answer is, you need to get vaccinated when it becomes available as quickly and as expeditiously as possible throughout the country.

And the reason for that is that there is a fact that permeates virology and that is that viruses cannot mutate if they don't replicate. And if you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations.

So, when we're looking at what we have here in the United States, as well as globally, when we talk about efficiently and getting these vaccines out there and into people as quickly as we possibly can, not only are you going to protect individuals from getting disease, not only are you going to protect them from getting infected, but you are going to prevent the emergence of variants here in our country.

And when you look at the global situation, which is the reason why we want to make sure we're part of a global community, and we recently have joined the COVAX, which is a consortium to get people vaccinated throughout the world, is that the only way we're going to completely stop mutants is if we stop this throughout the world.

So again, Dr. Walensky gave you the four or five things you need to do to protect yourselves. I want to emphasize the last thing she said, which is very important. When the vaccine becomes available to you, please get vaccinated.

So, I'll stop there and hand it over to Dr. Nunez-Smith.

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DR. MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH, CHAIRWOMAN, COVID-19 HEALTH EQUITY TASK FORCE: Thank you so much, Dr. Fauci.

So today, I want to discuss the data that we need to drive an equitable response. Achieving equity requires an understanding of the disparities that exist, and we do that through understanding the data.

So, to be very sure, COVID-19 equity must be achieved through a very broad lens, including by age, disability, justice involvement, poverty and income inequality, world geography, sexual orientation, and gender identity. But today, however, I want to provide an overview of the current state of our nation's COVID-19 data as broken down by race and ethnicity.

So, here's what we know about COVID-19 and equity. We know that this disease has not affected all racial ethnic groups the same. So, as you can see here, the rates of COVID- 19 hospitalizations and deaths are higher among individuals who identify as black, Latino, as well as among American Indians and Alaska natives.

Compared with white people, American Indian and Alaska native persons are 3.6 times more likely to be hospitalized while Latino persons are 3.2 times more likely and black people, 2.9 times more likely to require hospitalization.

So, similarly, when we look at death rates, 2.5 times higher among American Indian or Alaska native persons, 2.3 times higher among Latinos, and 2.1 times higher among black people. So, with regard to cases, it's a bit of a different story and graphs like these, though, don't tell the full picture.

So, at first glance, it may look like racial and ethnic minority groups do not have a substantially higher risk, especially following the increase of cases you've seen among white Americans (INAUDIBLE), but just a couple of caveats to that conclusion.

So, the higher rates of hospitalization among black, Latino, and American Indian, Alaska native persons are due in part to higher rates of chronic disease, but also reflect access to testing in many communities of color.

So, among these particular groups, testing does happen more frequently at the point of symptomatic illness requiring hospitalization, which is often a function of inadequate access to testing in the first place.

So, in these groups, we are not capturing many people who have asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infection. And as you see, when we advance into the next slide if we come with our cases data is the denominator reflects different factors in different populations. And those differences are really built upon preexisting inequities.

So, still taken together, these insights from our data are critical for our ability to target and triage our response. Without good data, we are at a disadvantage in terms of equity planning.

So, what we don't know about COVID-19 and equity, there's still far too much that is in this unknown category. So, the numbers you see here are current, as of this past week. This is the current state of the data being reported to us from states and localities across the country.

So, returning to cases, you see that 49 percent of COVID 19 cases have no reporting race or ethnicity. And that means we don't know the race or ethnicity for nearly half the people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the country. Now that 49 percent of COVID-19 cases may, in fact, marry the demographics of the other 51 percent, but it is more likely that it reflects some inherent inequities in how our data are collected and reported in different places, based on resources and how much equity is prioritized.

So, our hospitalization data still has nearly a quarter of race, ethnicity data missing. And at this point, we have race or ethnicity for nearly all of those who have unfortunately died from this disease.

So, I want to highlight these last two, as they mark significant improvements in the completeness of data from the earliest days of the pandemic, when the percentage of unavailable data was much higher for both of those categories.

So, we saw that through advocacy, through commitment and a call for an emphasis on equity, an improvement and reporting on those hospitalization and mortality data from the great majority of our state and localities.

So, I want to turn out to our most recent vaccination data. As of January 30th, we're missing 47 percent of the race and ethnicity data on vaccination.

So, let me be clear. We cannot ensure an equitable vaccination program without data to guide us. The CDC will be releasing additional data regarding race of ethnicity and vaccine uptake soon, but I'm worried about how behind we are.

We must address these insufficient data points as an urgent priority. There are a few reasons why we were already behind on this, only a month and a half into the vaccine rollout. The lack of federal coordination previously, the uneven roll out among the states, inconsistent emphasis on equity in the earliest days of vaccination. But those dynamics, they don't just hurt our statistics. They hurt the communities are at the highest risk and have been the hardest hit.

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So, finally, on our last slide, what actions are we taking? When the Biden-Harris administration began on January 20th, we knew we would be starting without the full data picture necessarily to drive equity. And that's why President Biden issued an executive order on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities on day one. And this order does a few things to help us in this work.

So first, it forms a new equitable data working group. It requires we collect data that are often not desegregated by key demographic variables. And it improves efforts to measure and advance equity. So coupled with the executive order, ensuring an equitable pandemic response and recovery, we also established a COVID-19 health equity task force, which will offer additional recommendations on how to expedite data collection for communities of color and other high risk groups.

So again, these challenges reflect longstanding and deeply rooted systemic challenges. We're not suggesting that these problems are easily solved. What we do believe, though, is that the way we get America vaccinated and the emphasis we place on reaching the hardest hit communities is just as important as hitting those goals for the number of people vaccinated. This is complex, but we want to be held accountable and wanted to use today to set the baseline for where things are and to let everyone know that we're committed to making progress from here on out.

So, thank you for your time. And with that, I'll turn it back over to you, Andy.

ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR ADVISER TO WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM: Thanks, Dr. Nunez-Smith.

So, in his second full day in office, President Biden introduced our national strategy to defeat COVID-19 with seven principle components: transparency, speeding vaccinations, public health measures like masking, driving manufacturing, increasing testing, health equity, and global engagement.

Today, I will update you on progress and developments across several of these areas.

I want to start with an exciting announcement. The Department of Defense and HHS made an announcement today about what will be the country's first over the counter at home COVID test. The test is made by a company called Ellume, and it's on a testing platform that was developed in the NIH's RADx initiative.

Now, these are over the counter, self-performed test kits that can detect COVID with roughly 95 percent accuracy within 15 minutes. They can be used if you feel symptoms of COVID-19 and also prescreening for people without symptoms, so they can safely go to work, to school, and to events. They are appropriate for people ages two and older.

The test is performed in what is called a mid-turbinate nasal swab, which basically means it's less invasive than the long nasopharyngeal swab that people may have seen on the news. After you take the swab, you put the sample into a digital analyzer, which will send a result to your smartphone in about 15 minutes.

Making easier to use tests available to every American is a high priority with obvious benefits. Ellume has been ramping up manufacturing and will ship 100,000 test kits per month to the US from February through July. That's good, but it's obviously not where we will need to be.

So, I'm excited to announce that today, the Department of Defense and HHS has awarded $230 million to Ellume, in order to scale the manufacturing base and capacity of this easy to use test. Thanks to this contract, they'll be able to scale their production to manufacturer more than 19 million test kits per month by the end of this year, 8.5 million of which are guaranteed to the US government.

The ability to quickly test, to contact trace and quarantine, is a linchpin of our national strategy and will be a vital part of containing the virus and stopping community spread. But in the interim, and while vaccines are still being rolled out, as Dr. Walensky repeatedly reminds us, wearing a well-fitting mask is vital.

Without masks, the virus and the new variants will have too easy a time continuing to grow. The CDC is systematically looking at strategies to minimize spread and locations where spread is highest, and public transportation is one of their priority areas.