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Live Coverage of COVID-19 Response Team; Previewing CNN Special Report "COVID WAR"; More Details Emerge in Boulder Shooting. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 26, 2021 - 10:30   ET



ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: These actions are an important step to help spread -- stop the spread of COVID-19 and to begin to address the longstanding inequities that prevent some communities from achieving optimal health.

We are doing this person by person, one person at a time, and we are working to do it through trusted, supported members of your community, within your community.

Finally, I want to give you a brief update on where we are in the pandemic. The most recent seven-day average is about 57,000 cases per day, which is an increase of seven percent from the prior seven days. The most recent seven-day average of new hospitalizations, about 4,700 per day, represents also a slight increase from the prior seven-day period. The seven-day average of deaths continues to hover at 1,000 deaths per day.

I remain deeply concerned about this trajectory. We have seen cases and hospital admissions move from historic declines to stagnations to increases, and we know from prior surges that if we don't control things now, there is a real potential for the epidemic curve to soar again.

Please, take this moment very seriously. We're vaccinating at 2.5 million people a day, and they are protected from COVID. If you haven't been vaccinated, your turn is likely very soon. We can turn this around, but it will take all of us working together. Please keep wearing your well-fitting masks and taking the public health actions now that we know can reverse these concerning trends.

Thank you, I will now turn things over to Dr. Fauci.


I'd like to spend the next few minutes introducing you to a new clinical trial that started yesterday, that will ask a very -- and answer a very important question related to what people who are vaccinated can and cannot do. The trial, if I could have the first slide, will test if COVID-19 vaccine prevents infection as well as spread or transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among college students. Next slide.

This is a question of extreme importance because we know when people are vaccinated, that the end point of the trial showed that they were protected against clinically apparent disease, but the prevailing question is when these people get infected, how often is that? If they are asymptomatic, how much virus do they have in their nose and do they transmit it to people who are their close contacts?

Again, this will help inform science-based decisions about mask use and about social distancing post-vaccination. This is a randomized, open-label, controlled study involving 12,000 participants (ph) between 18 and 26 years of age at (ph) more than 20 universities shown on the slide of the map of the United States. They'd be followed over five months and, as I mentioned, the study started yesterday. Next slide.

The students are going to be randomized into two groups. Six thousand will receive vaccine immediately, and another 6,000 will be vaccinated with a delay of four months later. The delayed vaccination group will serve initially as a control cohort.

Both of these groups are going to receive the FDA-authorized vaccine regimen of two 100-microgram doses of mRNA-1273, the Moderna product, administered 28 days apart. Next slide.

The participants are going to complete questionnaires with an electronic diary app. They will swab their nose daily for SARS coinfection, and provide periodic blood samples.

Importantly, about 25,000 individuals will be identified by the participants in the main study as close contacts. They will provide samples. The degree of transmission from vaccinated individuals will be determined by the infection rate in the close contacts.

So we hope that within the next five or so months, we'll be able to answer the very important question about whether vaccinated people get infected asymptomatically. And if they do, do they transmit the infection to others.

I'll stop there, and back to you, Jeff.

JEFF ZIENTS, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM: Well, thank you, Dr. Fauci, thank you, Dr. Walensky. Let's go ahead and open it up for a few questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great. And a reminder, one question per person. First up we'll go to Maureen Groppe at "USA Today."

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's bring in our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Good morning, Sanjay, good to have you. A lot of good news, I think, for folks in that briefing. I thought what was really interesting is at the end, what we just heard there from Dr. Fauci, that within five months from now we will know whether a vaccinated people can get COVID asymptomatically and whether they can spread it. That's not that far off.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it's not that far off. And there's been, you know, other studies, including some studies around the world, which are, you know, adding to this drumbeat that these vaccines not only dramatically reduce the likelihood of illness, but also decrease the likelihood that someone would become infected.

Now, we just haven't proven that yet, which is the point Dr. Fauci's making. But the study is going to be 12,000 college students, they're going to vaccinate them and basically have them swab their nose on a regular basis. And they're also going to follow their contacts, so they're going to find out how well does the vaccine actually prevent someone becoming infected, and also how likely is someone to transmit the virus after they've been vaccinated.

HARLOW: Right.

GUPTA: This may sound obvious, Poppy, but we still don't have the answer to those questions fully.

HARLOW: We don't, but we have many more answers than we did a few months ago, which is pretty great.


HARLOW: Sanjay, you have a really critical two-hour special event that airs this weekend. More than anyone, you've been following this pandemic, you've been a daily part of all of our lives and of America's lives on this. Can you tell us about this new special documentary report? Because it's extraordinary, the access you got.

GUPTA: Yes. Well, thank you, Poppy. Yes, I really wanted to talk to the people who were in charge of the response, and really be able to speak to them at length, ask lots of questions, did over 20 hours of interviews with the doctors at the center of the pandemic response.

I approached it sort of like an autopsy. Autopsies are tough, and we fully realize that they don't do anything for the patient on the table, but there are lessons to be learned. And this pandemic is ongoing, right? So there's lessons to be learned right now.

One of the people I spent a lot of time talking to is Dr. Robert Redfield, former head of the CDC. This line of questioning, and he wanted to start at the beginning. So take a listen.


ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: If I was to guess, this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October in Wuhan.

GUPTA: September, October?

REDFIELD: That's my own view. It's only opinion -- I'm allowed to have opinions now. You know, I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped. Other people don't believe that, that's fine; science will eventually figure it out. It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker.

GUPTA (voice-over): It is also not unusual for that type of research to be occurring in Wuhan. The city is a widely known center for viral studies in China, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has experimented extensively with bat coronaviruses.

GUPTA: It is a remarkable conversation I feel like we're having here because you are the former CDC director, and you were the director at the time this was all happening.

GUPTA (voice-over): For the first time, the former CDC director is stating publicly that he believes this pandemic started months earlier than we knew, and that it originated, not at a wet market, but inside a lab in China.

GUPTA: These are two significant things to say, Dr. Redfield.

REDFIELD: That's not implying any intentionality, you know? It's my opinion, right? But I am a virologist, I have spent my life in virology. I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human, and at that moment in time, the virus that came to the human became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity, for human-to-human transmission.

Normally when a pathogen goes from a zoonotic to a human, it takes a while for it to figure out how to become more and more efficient in human-to-human transmission. I just don't think this makes biological sense.

GUPTA: So in the lab, do you think that that process of becoming more efficient was happening? Is that what you are suggesting?

REDFIELD: Yes, let's just say I have coronavirus and I'm working on it. Most of us in a lab, when we're trying to grow a virus, we try to help make it grow better and better and better and better and better and better so we can do experiments and figure out about it. I -- that's the way I put it together.


GUPTA: it is provocative stuff, Poppy. And there's no clear evidence of what Dr. Redfield is saying, either. The World Health Organization says the lab leak theory is unlikely; Chinese officials have said that there may be a multi-origin theory, where this pandemic originated in multiple places including a U.S. military lab. They suggest that, unsubstantiated.


Point is, Poppy, we still don't know for sure. It's still not clear, more than a year into this, exactly where this started. And every scientist we spoke to said it's important to know where this started because this will help us prepare for the next pandemic, it's a critical piece of information. HARLOW: Don't even say that, Sanjay, the next pandemic. But you're so

right, that is how necessary it is.

That's amazing to hear him say that, you have me hooked. We will all be watching. Thank you for that, to you and your entire team, Jessica, the lead producer on that as well, did a great, great job. Don't miss this unprecedented event with Dr. Gupta, when the medical leaders of the war on COVID break their silence, the CNN special report "COVID WAR: THE PANDEMIC DOCTORS SPEAK OUT." It is this Sunday at 9:00 Eastern.



HARLOW: Welcome back. Well, the police chief in Boulder, Colorado and the district attorney there will hold a press conference today to discuss their investigation into the tragic mass shooting at the supermarket there on Monday. This, as we learn the shooting suspect was moved out of Boulder County because of threats from other inmates. Let's go to our colleague Lucy Kafanov, she's in Boulder this morning.

Good morning, Lucy, do you have any sense of what to expect from this press conference?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We do, Poppy. It's going to be the first press conference since the police addressed the public on Tuesday. We expect the police chief to talk about the next steps in the court process, details on what they've recovered from the crime scene behind me, the role also of victim advocates and also data on the agencies, personnel and the hours in this investigation so far.

We know that the suspect purchased the weapon used in Monday's massacre back in March 16th. We're now learning that he passed a background check and was able to purchase that Ruger AR-556 pistol from an Arvada gun shop known as the Eagles Nest Armory. A law enforcement source previously told CNN that nothing in the federal system would have prevented him from being able to make a weapons purchase.

I can also tell you about the charges. We know that he's facing those 10 counts of murder in the first degree; there's also that added charge that got added on yesterday for attempted murder.

That, we're now learning, is allegedly over an attempted attack on Officer Richard Steidell, he was one of the first Boulder Police officers on the scene, he was inside that King Soopers store, combing the store for the gunman, when he came upon the body of Officer Eric Talley. Richard Steidell made it out alive, Eric Talley tragically did not.

TEXT: Colorado Shooting Suspect Latest From Court Proceeding: Ten charges of first-degree murder; One charge of attempted murder; More charges are possible; Held without bail; Next hearing in 60 to 90 days

KAFANOV: We are also now learning that his funeral is set for next Tuesday. And in a gesture, the Boulder Police Department told us they used Officer Talley's handcuffs to process the gunman when he was released from the hospital and taken to the jail. They say it is a small gesture, we hope it is the start of a healing process so many of us need at this time -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Lucy, we see behind you the makeshift memorial, #Boulderstrong, what we see so often, every time after these mass shootings that just keep happening.

I wonder, being on the ground there all week, what the sense is that you get from the people of Boulder. Do they actually feel like those that they have elected in Washington, this time, will actually do something about it? Or do they think this will go to be yet another mass shooting unanswered by legislation?

KAFANOV: Well, another mass shooting unanswered, and one of so many here in Colorado. The sense that you get from talking to people is how can this happen again. You know, we've had these atrocities happen in this state, we've had these atrocities happen across the nation. And it feels like nothing seems to change.

I think the other thing that comes up is to have this happen at a grocery store, which for so many of us became the only familiar thing during this pandemic -- as one person put it to me, no place feels safe anymore -- Poppy.

HARLOW: That's right, they're not, sadly. Lucy, thank you for the reporting from Boulder for us.


Well, deadly tornadoes carved a trail of destruction across the southeast overnight. We'll take you to that, next.


HARLOW: Now to the wake of destruction after a tornado outbreak kills at least six people. So far, 23 possible tornados striking several states in the southeast. There is extensive damage, particularly in Alabama and in Newnan, Georgia, where a tornado hit in the early morning hours. Let's go to Amara Walker, she joins us there this morning.

Good morning, Amara, horrible to see behind you.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is pretty extensive, the damage. And local officials here on the ground, they just confirmed that one person has died as a result of the tornado that touched down just after midnight this morning. We don't know the details on how this person died, but I can tell you we are in a neighborhood that was the hardest hit according to local authorities.

But talking about the damage, so the fire officials over at the Coweta County Fire Department was saying that the damage here on the ground is just catastrophic. And you can see for yourself here, I mean, this is a transformer that snapped in half, landed on top of the roof of this house. I'm not quite sure what happened to the residents inside.

But this is a scene that's being repeated just straight down through this neighborhood. You can also see that tree there, the top of it just sheared off by the force of the winds from this tornado.

There is a bit of good news, though, to talk about, and that is the fact, when I talk to the residents here, they tell me that they did have a good 15 to 20 minutes' lead time. The sirens went off at about 11:45 last night, they had about 15 to 20 minutes to huddle, get their family together and get into an interior space in their house or in the basement.

One man I spoke with just down the street from here, Jim Reeder, did that and he describes the moment the tornado came bearing down. Here he is.


JIM REEDER, NEWNAN, GEORGIA RESIDENT: The very first thing was a torrential rain for about three seconds, and then nothing. It went completely dead, and then three second of hard rain and then dead again. And that's when I knew it was coming, because then you heard the train coming. And it sounded just like it.



WALKER: All right, so back out live, you can see this is one of the homes where the roof of the house was just completely ripped off. If you walk into this home, you look up, you're going to see the sky.

You also see the red marks there, X and O. The fire officials tell me, here on the ground, that the X means the house has been cleared, everyone's been accounted for. That zero means no one has died.

So what's been happening all morning is officials, they've been knocking on the doors, going door to door to make sure everyone has been accounted for. That man you just heard from, Jim Reeder, also said that he's been knocking on doors to make sure his neighbors made it out OK -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Amara, thank you very, very much.

And thanks to all of you for joining me today and all week, I will be on vacation next week. Jim will be here. Have a good, safe weekend. NEWSROOM with Kate Bolduan starts next.