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Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on March 7, 2021

Face The Nation: Ben Crump, Liz Palmer, Scott Gottlieb
Face The Nation: Ben Crump, Liz Palmer, Scott Gottlieb 22:34

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden, Director, National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
  • Gov. Jim Justice, (R-West Virginia)
  • Gov. Phil Murphy, (D-New Jersey)
  • Benjamin Crump, Civil Rights Attorney for the Family of George Floyd
  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Former FDA Commissioner

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm Margaret Brennan in Washington. And this week on FACE THE NATION, the month of March brings new hope, but also new warnings not to go too far too fast when it comes to lifting health restrictions. As America closes in on the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Biden's push for nearly two trillion more in economic relief is close to becoming a reality.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This nation has suffered too much for much too long.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Despite new supplies of COVID vaccines, the logistical challenges of getting shots in the arms of Americans remains a big obstacle to getting back to normal. Another challenge: More, more, and more states are already easing COVID restrictions, including mask mandates.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The last thing we need is the Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll talk to Doctor Anthony Fauci and former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb. Plus, we'll check in with two governors, West Virginia Republican Jim Justice and New Jersey Democrat Phil Murphy. Then, as the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer accused of killing George Floyd gets underway, we'll talk with civil rights attorney Ben Crump. Finally, what's on the minds of Americans a year into the COVID-19 pandemic?

SANDY: I think the virus is pretty much done.

TANYA: My sister and I both got our vaccines and everything, and we're going to put our masks on and we're going to go to Vegas and have a good time.


Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. If all goes as expected early this week, many Americans will soon receive a third installment of economic aid from the federal government. This latest bill brings the total to nearly six trillion dollars that has been spent in the past year to combat the pandemic and shore up the economy. President Biden outlined what's in the package after a Senate passage yesterday.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Over eighty-five percent American households will get direct payments of one thousand four hundred dollars per person. Unemployment benefits will be extended for eleven million Americans who've lost their jobs. Schools are going to have the resources they need to open safely. And one more thing. This plan is historic. Taken all together, this plan is going to make it possible to cut child poverty in half.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We begin with senior national correspondent Mark Strassmann in Atlanta.

(Begin VT)

MARK STRASSMANN (CBS News Senior National Correspondent): COVID America has an ideal--everyone deserves a shot. But with lagging distribution of the three approved vaccines, so far less than ten percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated.

ANDY SLAVITT: It may seem tempting to try to rush back to normalcy as if the virus is in the rearview mirror. It's not.

MARK STRASSMANN: Here's progress, the trajectory of new daily cases down nearly seventy-five percent since the first of the year. Although the number of new cases seems to have leveled off, scientists see twin threats--COVID variants and COVID complacency.

GREG ABBOTT: Now is a great time for Texas to be opening up.

MARK STRASSMANN: On Wednesday, Texas will lift its masking mandate, the sixteenth state without one.

WOMAN: Woo-hoo. I'm about done with masks.

MARK STRASSMANN: California is getting ready to ease restrictions that were once among America's toughest. When Major League Baseball season opens next month, the state will allow a limited number of fans.

MAN: I was walking over here.

MARK STRASSMANN: At the University of Colorado, students partied as though the COVID threat was a class in ancient history. Immunologists agree this crisis is far from over and getting shots in arms means everything. Polls say about one in five Americans don't want the vaccine. For the rest, the high demand's obvious at mass vaccination sites, this California roller rink, the Minnesota Vikings practice facility, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

(End VT)

MARK STRASSMANN: FEMA is also opening two mass vaccination sites. One of them's here at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The goal is to give six thousand shots a day and target people living in lower income neighborhoods near the stadium. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mark, thank you.

We go now to the President's Chief Medical Adviser Doctor Anthony Fauci. Good morning to you, Doctor.

ANTHONY FAUCI, M.D. (Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden/Director, National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You recently warned that the country could be at risk for another infection spike. Are you worried about a fourth wave of this epidemic?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, my concern, Margaret, is based on the fact that although the cases are coming down very nicely, you have a very sharp diminution, over the past week and a half or so, we've seen that that decline has now done this, essentially, starting to plateau. And, historically, if you look back at the different surges we've had, when they come down and then start to plateau at a very high level, plateauing at a level of sixty to seventy thousand new cases per day is not an acceptable level. That is really very high. And if you look at what happened in Europe a few weeks ago, they're usually a couple of weeks ahead of us in these patterns, they were coming down too, then they plateaued. And over the last week or so, they've had about a nine percent increase in cases. So the message we're saying is that we do want to come back carefully and slowly about pulling back on mitigation methods. But don't turn its switch on and off because it really would be risky to have yet again another surge, which we do not want to happen because we're plateauing at a-- quite a high level. Sixty to seventy thousand new infections per day is quite high.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. I know you've been watching carefully this new New York strain that has shown some resistance to antibody treatments and vaccine. How widespread is it?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, it's not widespread yet, but it seems to be spreading pretty efficiently through the New York City metropolitan area and beyond. One of the things you have to be careful about is that when you get a variant that has the capability of being rather vigorous in its-- in its capability of spreading, and fact is that it eludes a bit, not as much as the South African isolate, but eludes a bit some of the protection from the antibodies, from monoclonal antibodies as well as the vaccine. The one thing you want to do is to make sure you do not allow that to continue to spread. Two ways to do that, get people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible, and above all, maintain the public health measures that we talk about so often, the masking, the physical distancing and the avoiding of congregate settings, particularly indoors. That's what you can do to prevent the spread of a worrisome variant.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. Doctor, but you know people are exhausted. And so much of this game seems to be about human psychology. States are moving faster than the federal guidelines are allowing for here. When will the Biden administration put out some clear benchmarks for people at home to make the judgment about how they can return to normal?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Yeah. Well, when you're talking about benchmarks of people who are vaccinated and how a vaccinated person can interact with an unvaccinated person or with unvaccinated people, those guidelines are coming out from the CDC really imminently, Margaret. I would imagine, within the next couple of days for sure. One of the things that I think we should point out, every day that goes by that we keep the lid on things will get better and better because we're putting now at least two million vaccinations into the arms of individuals each day. And as the days and weeks go by, you have more and more protection, not only of individuals, but of the community. So we're going in the right direction. We just need to hang in there a bit longer.


ANTHONY FAUCI: We will be pulling back on these mitigation methods. It's not going to be this way indefinitely for sure. We want to get those-- the levels of virus very, very low, and then we will have much, much easier time to safely pull back and get the economy and all the other things that we want to be normal.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How-- but what will drive that? Will it be seasonality? I mean, we're going into warmer weather. Is it going to feel safer, and then in the autumn, we have to pull back again?

ANTHONY FAUCI: No. I don't think so, Margaret, because we've been through this movie before where we felt we were going to get some relief in the summer. And if you go back and look at the patterns, we've had surges in the middle of the summer. Generally, respiratory viruses do better in the sense of better for the community in the summer, but we can't rely on that now. What we need to rely on is getting people vaccinating and continuing the public health measures with the gradual pulling back. We-- we want to make sure people understand this is not going to be indefinite. We need to gradually pull back as we get more people vaccinated. And that is happening every single day, more and more people, and particularly as we get more doses, which are going to be dramatically increased as we get into April and May. And as the President--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --has said, we will have at-- by the end of May, enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone. We'll have to put a big push to get it into people's arms, but by that time, we're going to be doing much, much better. We're going to have--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --community vaccine centers, vaccine in pharmacies. Okay, sorry.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sorry. Now, what about high school students? Should they be vaccinated before the fall?

ANTHONY FAUCI.: Well, actually, that's a very good question. And right now, the tests are being done to determine both safety and comparable immunogenicity in high school students. We project that high school students will very likely be able to be vaccinated by the fall term, maybe not the very first day, but certainly in the early part of the fall for that fall educational term. Elementary school kids, we're doing this what's called age de-escalation studies--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --to make sure it's safe and immunogenic in them. They likely will be able to get vaccinated by the very first quarter of 2022.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Thank you very much, Doctor Fauci.

New Jersey has been one of the hardest hit states with the highest per capita COVID death rate in the nation. Governor Phil Murphy joins us from Middletown. Good morning to you, Governor. As we just laid out, it has been rough in your state. You have had two real waves. First, last-- last time around this year-- this time around last year, I should say, and then again in the fall. Why did you get hit so hard twice?

GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY (D-New Jersey/@GovMurphy): Good to be with you, Margaret. And Tony Fauci, has been an extraordinary adviser to us and to me personally. We got hit as part of the metro New York City reality last winter and spring, without question. We're the densest state in America. That-- that's usually a good thing as we build out our economy, as we take advantage of our location. But with a pandemic, it's been a-- as my late mother would say, a big cross to bear. And that is also a contributing factor as to why we also got hit hard with the second wave. We assume, by the way, that the New York City variant that you and Doctor Fauci were talking about is in New Jersey. So that's another example that we're the densest not just state in the country, but the densest region of the country with lots of commuting back and forth, lots of common behavior, whether it's work or otherwise. And that's just the reality. We'll do everything we can to-- to push back at that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be watching for that. I want to ask you, though, about your record and last spring. It was last March that the-- your administration ordered long-term care facilities to start accepting infected residents. New York has gotten a lot of scrutiny for a similar decision. Are you confident that New Jersey did not undercount or-- deliberately or otherwise, nursing home deaths?

GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: Yeah, Margaret, I don't have any insight on New York, but I have a clear answer as to what we did in New Jersey. Our health department, our commissioner was explicit, black and white, if you readmit a previously COVID positive resident, they need to be segregated. They need to be separated into either their own floor, their own wing, their own building and staff as well. Secondly, I think we started reporting probable deaths from COVID as early as June. Thirdly, we hired, in the middle of this, a firm that came in independently--


GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: --and held up a mirror to our practices and-- and gave us a pretty brutal assessment and road path forward. And lastly, we said to long-term care facilities, by the way, if you can't separate, come to us and we will find another alternative. And many did--

MARGARET BRENNAN:  So you're confident in the numbers?

GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: --so that's obviously-- those were a set of steps. I'm confident in the numbers--


GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: --yes, sadly. I mean, it's tragic. We were clobbered and we mourn the loss of each and every one of those lives. But I am.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you regret that decision to put sick people into nursing homes, even in the conditions you laid out?

GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: Margaret, if the operators followed, and-- and we believe that most, thank God, did, the pattern that I-- the instructions that I just laid out, that's the-- that's the-- that was the right course to take.


GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: This is their home. So to say to folks, we're not only going to separate patients, but separate staff. Remember, a lot of these folks got infected unwittingly because staff members were walking in and out of these facilities, asymptomatic, but COVID positive. So it was not enough just to separate the residents, but to separate the staff. Did some operators not take our advice? It's possible. And if they did-- if they did not, then they deserve to pay a price for that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's at the state level. The Justice Department, we know, has been looking at a number of different states, New Jersey included in regard to nursing home deaths. Do you know the status of that probe?

GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: I do not. And again, we have been transparent from day one. Again, this is not to make light of any single loss of life. We got clobbered in long-term care. America got clobbered. The world got clobbered. But we have been transparent and explicit from day one.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about your neighboring state governor and the allegations against Andrew Cuomo. You've called them deeply troubling, but since you made those remarks, even more allegations have come to light. Five women now are accusing him of inappropriate comments or unwanted physical contact. At what point does this become disqualifying for him?

GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: Listen, Margaret, I-- I'm going to stay where I've been on this, which is this is deeply troubling and more data points make it even more troubling. And an independent investigation, which all parties appear to have come to the conclusion was the right road forward, I would-- I would agree with that. Let's see where that comes out. And I would just say every person, regardless of who they are, who has a concern, has a right to be heard. And that concern has a right to be investigated. And Godwilling that's what will-- what will happen here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I mean two male staffers now have described bullying and verbal abuse. Charlotte Bennett gave an interview to my colleague Norah O'Donnell this week. I'm sure you saw it, where she alleged the governor was grooming her to sleep with him. Should he resign?

GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: Listen, Margaret, I think-- listen, as I say, this is deeply troubling, deeply concerning, let's let this independent investigation play out, hopefully on an expedited basis, see where that comes out. And then-- and then see where we go from there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Governor Murphy, thank you for your time today and good luck with that New York variant.

GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: Thanks for having me, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: FACE THE NATION will be back in one minute with another governor, Jim Justice of West Virginia. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to West Virginia, one of the states lifting restrictions and opening businesses at full capacity. Governor Jim Justice joins us from Charleston. Good morning, Governor.

GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE (R-West Virginia/@WVGovernor): Good morning, Margaret. How are you doing?

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm-- I'm doing well, and I know you must be pleased, since you are one of the very few Republican governors who supported this two-trillion-dollar COVID relief package that the Senate just signed off on. How do you justify to your fellow Republican governors and to the country why this is worth two trillion dollars of taxpayer money?

GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: Well, Margaret, I've got to just say just one thing, and it's just this. You know, from the standpoint of signing on to pay off big pension debts and everything, I've never been in favor of that at all. Now, I've not seen all the particulars about the bill. What I'm signing on to is just one thing. You've still-- you've still got a lot of people in America that are really, really hurting, a lot of people that are struggling, trying to pay the rent, and a lot of states and-- and counties that are hurting as well. Now in that, when we tighten down-- and I'm a business guy, I'm not a politician. When you tighten down things and everything and you just try to skinny it down and just do X number of dollars, we have proven that we have missed the boat. What we need to do is we need to go big or don't go, in my opinion. And so I'm pleased with the-- with the fact that we're going big and we're going to absolutely try to really right ourselves and get our economy get back and going.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You mentioned pension funds, which is one of the criticisms from Republicans that these funds are-- are, you know, used in ways they're not intended to be by Democratic governors. But you've been criticized yourself by your home state Senator Joe Manchin for sitting on past federal COVID relief funds and then using it for unrelated projects like potholes. Joe Manchin said, I don't know of a pothole that's had the COVID virus. How do you respond to that?

GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: Listen, Joe Manchin is a professional politician, and I'm not going to get in a food fight with Joe Manchin. I mean, absolutely. You know, Margaret, we have handled the CARES' dollars here perfectly, and absolutely this state is being managed very well. Now along the way, you know, if Joe wants to continue with all of his political rhetoric and everything, I can't do anything about that. Like I said, I'm not a politician. I think his statements are ridiculous.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you would stand by the, what, hundred million dollars on roads?

GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: We spent fifty million dollars of our CARES, 1.25 billion on medical access roads to be able to help people in West Virginia to be able to get to a medical facility. Our roads had gotten in such terrible shape--


GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: --and part of it on Joe Manchin's watch. And absolutely, we spent fifty million of a billion, two hundred and fifty million on our road repairs. Yes, we did.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about your state and its response to COVID. As we introduced you, you have loosened business restrictions, but you have kept in place a mask mandate. And, in fact, this week you said the decision to lift it by some of your fellow governors was just kind of a macho thing. How do you respond to those in your party who say masks violate their rights?

GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: I think that's ridiculous, you know. You know, I don't like the mask either, but when it really, really boils right down to it, you know, Margaret, I have a saying, you know, one robin doesn't make spring. And, you know, when the first robins start coming back, if you just react and run out, oh, you know, it's wonderful, it's spring, it's spring, you're about to get hit by a winter storm and absolutely get your butt handed to you. You know, in this situation, we need to be a little more cautious. Nobody likes a mask. But for crying out loud, if we could be a little more prudent for thirty more days or forty-five more days or whatever it took for us to get on rock-solid ground, that's the approach West Virginia is going to take, and that's the approach that I think it should take.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You have been lauded for success in getting vaccination out to your people. It's about eighteen percent of the state, I believe, that's been vaccinated. But I want to ask you how you're doing that, because what we see in polling, particularly from, for example, the Kaiser Family Foundation, they say that nearly four in ten Republicans, three in ten rural residents are vaccine hesitant. You're running a ruby red state here, Sir, so this sounds like a lot of people who would live in West Virginia. How do you convince them to take the vaccine?

GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: Margaret, you've got to be truthful and you've got to be transparent and you've got to earn their trust and keep them with you. You know, for-- I mean, every single day, you know, or every other day I'm talking to them. I tell them everything. The right and the left hand in my administration knows what each other's doing. All of our health experts that are unbelievable. Absolutely, the great Clay Marsh or the great, you know, Doctor Am-- Doctor Amjad or-- or-- or General Hoyer and all the different people that are my medical experts. They're doing an amazing job and everything.


GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: And absolutely, when we tell our people over and over and over, I tell them, I tell them just this-- I tell them this almost every day, for crying out loud, do you really think you're going to take the vaccine and grow antlers? I mean, come on, just look at all the--


GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: --medical knowledge that's around you and everything. You've got to be taking the vaccines and they are.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Quickly, before I let you go same question I put to Governor Murphy. Should the governor of New York resign in the wake of the slew of allegations against him?

GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: Well, I don't know every single thing, but I know this, that the states, whether it be New Jersey or New York, I mean, they've got it all wrong. You know, we got it right in West Virginia, little old West Virginia. That it's, you know, a lot of people perceive maybe not in a good way.

MARGARET BRENNAN: These allegations of personal behavior, though?

GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: I think it's terrible and I-- I truly believe, you know, that he has a dog's mess on his hands, and with all this, you know, where it stands--


GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: --it's not going to do anything except getting worse.


GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE: And I-- and I would say he needs to resign.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor Justice, thank you for your time.

More FACE THE NATION in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: On the latest edition of our Facing Forward podcast, I speak with Alexis Ohanian, founder of 776 and co-founder of Reddit.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. Today marks the fifty-sixth anniversary of the March to Selma, also known as Bloody Sunday, a landmark event in the Civil Rights Movement. And last week, the House passed a policing reform bill named after George Floyd, who died in police custody last year in Minneapolis. Jury selection is scheduled to begin tomorrow in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who is charged in Floyd's death. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is one of the lawyers that represents the family of Mister Floyd and he joins us from Houston, Texas. Good morning to you.

BEN CRUMP (Civil Rights Attorney/@AttorneyCrump): Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sir, there was a late development over the weekend in regard to the potential third-degree murder charge against this former officer in the state of Minnesota's case. Will jury selection still begin tomorrow? Will things get underway Monday?

BEN CRUMP: It is our understanding that the trial will get underway Monday. George Floyd's family, as the victims who I represent have been informed that they have every intention of the trial going forward.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In anticipation of that, we have seen protests in cities around this country. In Minneapolis, some businesses are already being boarded up in fear of potential violence like what engulfed that city last June. You've been with the Floyd family. What is their message to protesters?

BEN CRUMP: Well, their message is thank you for standing up and exercising your First Amendment rights, but doing so in a peaceful way. I know Attorney General Keith Ellison, the first African-American attorney general for the state of Minnesota, is going to prosecute this case zealously. And that's why they've moved for the third-degree murder charges to be instated, because they want to make sure that the jury has every option to hold Derek Chauvin criminally liable for the torture, the inhumanity and the murder of George Floyd.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That is the state's case. We know that often happens before a federal case gets underway. But there has been a grand jury impaneled in Minneapolis and the Justice Department has called new witnesses. I mean, do you have any indication as to how the Biden administration's Justice Department is going to handle this?

BEN CRUMP: Well, it is my belief that George Floyd's civil rights were violated. I mean you look at the video, you hear him say twenty-eight times, I can't breathe. The public is begging the police to take the knee off his neck. They say, his nose is bleeding. He can't breathe. He's going unconscious. You're going to kill him. If that's not a deprivation of his civil rights to live, I don't know what is. And, Margaret, my whole life's mission as a civil rights attorney has been to be an unapologetic defender of black life and black liberty and black humanity. And we saw that Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, took all of that away from a black man who was restrained face-down in handcuffs.

MARGARET BRENNAN: As a candidate, Joe Biden did speak with George Floyd's family and he made promises. And I wonder what your understanding is in terms of what's actually going to be delivered.

BEN CRUMP: Well, President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with George Floyd's family, as many of my other clients, Jacob Blake Junior and Breonna Taylor's family, while they were campaigning and they were sincere in saying they believe we need to have police reform, we need systematic change and reform in policing. And I know millions of black people went out and voted in these cities like Atlanta and Milwaukee and Detroit with George Floyd and Breonna on their mind. And so it is my hope that President Biden, who said that this was going to be a priority for him to get policing reform, that he will not ever forget those conversations with George Floyd's family, those conversations with Breonna Taylor's broken-hearted mother, those conversations with Jacob Blake, who's paralyzed because their lives matter, Black Lives Matter. And this would be something that he could deliver--


BEN CRUMP: --that will be a permanent brand for his legacy, that he did not forget those black people who he talked to on the campaign trail once he ascended to the leader of the free world.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And those political promises are often hard to deliver on when you look at the reality of what has happened with this George Floyd policing reform bill, which passed the House again this past week, but is now headed to the Senate, which we know in the past, it stalled there. What area is there for compromise? Can you stomach anything compromised on qualified immunity?

BEN CRUMP: Well, we understand that politics is the art of compromise because we want to make progress. However, on qualified immunity, Margaret--


BEN CRUMP: --this has to be addressed because this is the thing that allows bad police officers to engage in reprehensible conduct like we saw with George Floyd and countless, I mean, hundreds of black people being killed. And it shields their behavior. And we're not saying that this qualified immunity reform will deny police officers their due process. But what we are saying--


BEN CRUMP: --it will allow those who have been harmed to have access to court--


BEN CRUMP: --to be able to make sure we change the toxic--


BEN CRUMP: --nature that some of us feel happens in policing when we look at that George Floyd video.


BEN CRUMP: We can do better, America. We must do better.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will watch on that provision in particular. Thank you, Mister Crump, for your time.

We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We return now to our coverage of COVID-19 and a look at what's happening around the world. Senior foreign affairs correspondent Liz Palmer reports from London.

ELIZABETH PALMER (CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent/@CBSLizpalmer): Good morning. Well, first, the good news, the number of COVID deaths worldwide peaked at the end of January, and it's been in decline ever since. The bad news is that the disease has cost two and a half million lives and counting.

(Begin VT)

ELIZABETH PALMER: This week Europe marked a solemn anniversary. It's been a year since the coronavirus exploded here. The Swiss observed a minute of silence for victims. Thankful things are improving, but the crisis in Europe isn't over. The Czech Republic has asked for help with one of the worst outbreaks anywhere in the world. And with a slow, many would say bungled vaccination rollout, there are hotspots across the continent. Still, there is evidence that globally things are moving in the right direction. Millions of vaccine doses arrived in Africa at last. Dignitaries lined up on the runway to greet them.


ELIZABETH PALMER: The first shot in Nigeria went to Doctor Ngong Cyprian.

DR. NGONG CYPRIAN: I will feel greater when about seventy percent of Nigerians have been vaccinated.

ELIZABETH PALMER: So only a hundred and fifty million left to go. And finally, Brazil, deaths are rising sharply again. And epidemiologists worry about a variant that emerged in the Amazon which may resist some vaccines and be able to infect people twice.

(Jair Bolsonaro speaking foreign language)

ELIZABETH PALMER: The advice from Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's president: stop whining.

(End VT)

ELIZABETH PALMER: Here in England, we are still under strict lockdown. Pubs, restaurants, businesses, they're all closed. But tomorrow, students go back to school across the country, a big step back toward normality. Margaret.


We go now to former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb. He sits on the board of Pfizer as well as Illumina, and he joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning to you, Doctor.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB, M.D. (Former FDA Commissioner/@ScottGottliebMD): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I thought there was some news there from Doctor Fauci on a few fronts. One of them saying elementary school kids could be vaccinated in the first quarter of 2022. High school kids, possibly by the fall. That seems new.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: I think that's right. I think when you're looking at vaccinating children, they're going to look at it from the standpoint of the social environment that the kids are in. So they'll look at it based on kids in high school, kids in middle school, kids in grades school. I think the likelihood that we're going to be ready to vaccinate grade school kids is very unlikely, at least this year. I think that's really a 2022 event probably looking at the studies that need to get done. I think it's probable that we will be vaccinating high school kids at some point this year. One of the vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine, I'm on the board of that company, has already approved down to sixteen. There's studies underway with all the vaccines looking at younger age populations with their vaccines. And so I think we'll be in a position to be ready to vaccinate a high school age population sometime this fall, maybe not at the start of the school year, but be able to put it into that environment if we do get in trouble with the virus later this fall or the winter. And so you'll be looking at vaccine, ninth grade and above, getting it into that high school setting. Then we'll have to contemplate whether we put it in middle schools and junior high schools.

MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the other things he indicated is that there will be soon-to-be-released guidelines on what you can actually do once you're vaccinated. From your perspective, what can you do? Can you go in and eat indoors at a restaurant right now?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Look, I think people who are fully vaccinated have waited the full two weeks after the second dose of the vaccinations are going to feel more confident going out. We need to accommodate that. Public health guidance needs to take into consideration what people want to do. We can't be so far behind the aspirations of the public that the guidance itself gets ignored. I think people are rightly sensing that vulnerability overall is declining right now as you see more and more people get vaccinated, as we have more population-wide immunity from this virus from prior infection as well. So people are going to want to start to do things. They're going to want to start to go out more. And we need to take that into consideration in terms of how we're putting out guidance. Just looking at nursing homes alone. If you look at overall deaths, they are declining. But of the deaths that are occurring, thirteen percent right now are occurring in nursing homes. That's down from forty percent. And so that's a real significant indication that the overall vulnerability of the most vulnerable people, those who are succumbing to COVID, is starting to decline quite dramatically as we get more of them vaccinated. Right now, this week, we're probably going to hit about sixty percent of those-- excuse me, seventy percent of those above the age of seventy-five are going to be vaccinated, sixty percent of those above the age of sixty-five, fully almost twenty-five percent of adults are going to be vaccinated probably by the end of this week. So we're reducing the overall vulnerability of the population. And final point, I mean, some of the optimism is also being driven by growing science, suggesting that these vaccines, all the vaccines not only prevent COVID disease, prevent symptoms, but also prevent transmission. So they could have a dramatic effect on reducing the overall tenor of the epidemic.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The exception, though, are some of these variants, like those in New York that are showing that they can't be pierced. So what do we do about that? How widespread is this New York variant?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, there's two New York variants, so there's a 1525, 1526. One of them we're more worried about, the 1526, because it has this mutation that seems to suggest that people who had prior infection could get reinfected and perhaps the vaccines might not be as effective. It still represents a small amount of the overall infection. It's probably going to grow. We've now found it in Georgia. The variant that's going to become the prevalent strain here in the United States is the B.1.1.7, that U.K. variant. Right now, it's forty percent of infections in Florida, thirty percent in California. That's going to become the most prevalent strain. Now, that strain, when it does become prevalent, probably is going to crowd out some of these other strains, the 1.351 in South Africa, and the P.1 variant in Brazil. There's probably some crossover between the immunity you get from B.1.1.7 and immunity against those other strains. But that's going to probably cause infections to tick back up. I don't think we're going to see another surge of infection this spring, but we might see a plateauing before we see continued declines again.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, we look back at some of your remarks from a year ago. You've been pretty on the money with your predictions. But at this time a year ago, we weren't wearing masks. We weren't told to until April by the federal government. Now we're being asked to continue wearing them. From where you sit, is that the biggest mistake? I mean, how would you grade our performance as a country?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: I think the masks are the single biggest mistake because it was the easiest intervention that we could have reached for early to prevent spread. I think this was a real failure to detect all of the asymptomatic spread. We overestimated the role of fomites, of contaminated surfaces in spreading this virus, because we weren't recognizing all the spread that was happening from asymptomatic individuals, because we weren't doing good tracking and tracing. We were using a flu-model to detect COVID spread and it wasn't applicable. So CDC was very slow to recognize this. If we had recognized earlier all this spread through asymptomatic transmission and the fact that this is spreading not just through droplets but also aerosolization, enclosed environments, we probably would have recommended masks and high-quality masks much earlier. So that was probably the single biggest mistake--


SCOTT GOTTLIEB: --largely because it was a single easiest intervention that we could have reached for early.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Doctor Gottlieb, thank you for having-- helping us navigate this over the past year and in the weeks ahead.

We'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: One year ago this week many of us realized that COVID-19 was going to dramatically change our lives. We spoke with several Americans from across the country to reflect on the last year and look ahead. We began by asking if the group trusted the vaccine.

(Begin VT)

TANYA (Indiana): I trust the vaccine, but I don't think that the vaccine is just going to be the-- the cure-all and everything is going to be lovely. But I think this makes things a whole lot better.

JUAN (California): The vaccines that are out seem to be pretty effective. It seems to be a much better way to achieve herd immunity via immunization than, you know, just having the virus ravage through communities.

SANDY (California): I would rather wait. I don't want to be a guinea pig.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. And is that how you view taking the vaccine right now, for the fifty million Americans who've have taken it?

SANDY: Yes, Ma'am. At this point I would rather wait a year or two, make sure people aren't dying from it or turning to robots or something like that. But I'd rather wait.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And-- and, Gabriel, is that where you are?

GABRIEL (Tennessee): I would never consider taking it. Like Sandy said, I don't want to be a guinea pig.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Charie and Gabriel, you live in states where there is no mask mandate, do you both wear masks. Charie.

CHARIE (Georgia): Yes, I do. I'd rather err on the side of caution and not transmit anything to somebody else that could cause them to-- to get sick and possibly die.

GABRIEL: I just don't think they work like they say they do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you consider it a burden?

GABRIEL: Yes, Ma'am, I do.


GABRIEL: Because they're trying to force me to do something that I personally don't feel I need to do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you hear this is aerosol, that it passes through the air, that coughing is, in part, how this virus is spread, do you not believe any of that science?

GABRIEL: No, Ma'am, I don't.

SANDY: The other day I was (INDISTINCT) a restaurant, and they had onion rings. I had my mask on, I could still smell it. So if I can still smell those onion rings, what else is getting through that mask?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, in terms of the aerosol particles that you would be sharing, do you not see the barrier is doing anything?

SANDY: Right. What else-- no, it's not. Obviously, I can still smell those onion rings cooking. So what else is coming through that mask? So the mask isn't working.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How many of you would feel confident to go in and sit indoors and eat at a restaurant right now? Can I see a show of hands? Would all--

GABRIEL: We've done-- we've already done it several times. We do at least once or twice a month.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And would all of you feel safe getting on an airplane right now? A show of hands.

GABRIEL: My wife came back from a funeral. She flew all the way to Oregon, and, you know, I just didn't have any problem, so.

TANYA: I am going to take my first flight since the pandemic in a couple of months. My sister and I both got our vaccines and everything, and we're going to put our masks on and we're going to go to Vegas and have a good time. That's what we're going to do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you got your shot and you got your masks--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --so you-- you've got your armor with you, Tanya.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Has the past year been difficult for you, Sandy?

SANDY: It hasn't really been changed too much.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Charie, has this been tough for you?

CHARIE: It has been. As a teacher, there's some distancing that's difficult with five-year-olds. Sometimes when a child is crying or they're upset, I kind of do throw that social distancing out and I have to give them a hug and try to calm them down. But as far as difficulty, it's been hard to be in the minority in my community, as far as following the regulations and-- and the suggestions for safety.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What part of it has been difficult?

CHARIE: It's been difficult to be the outsider of when others are skeptical of the validity of the pandemic.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Tanya, did you feel that you had a similar experience? I mean, what part of this past year was difficult?

TANYA: When the pandemic hit, my family got to see it up close and personal. My nephew, early on, was stricken with the pandemic. He spent-- we thought we were going to lose him. He spent, like, three weeks on a ventilator. We couldn't get in to see him. It-- it was just-- it was heartbreaking.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Juan, what about you? How was this past year for you?

JUAN: Personally, actually, it-- it hasn't affected me as much as it's affected business owners, has affected educators like Charie. I'm-- I feel like I'm lucky in that sense, obviously. But as a good worker, I, you know, do take some risks, I wear my mask, I make sure that my passengers wear masks as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When this is over, what is it that you are looking forward to doing?

SANDY: My parents are elderly, and I do wear a mask with them, but I'm looking forward to been to (INDISTINCT) to them and be able to hug them and not having to wear a stupid mask.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that what everyone misses the most, being able to hug and kiss and shake hands?

SANDY: Sure.

GABRIEL: Absolutely. I mean, for me church is important to our family. You know, we haven't been in church in over a year. We've been doing some Zoom things and everything.

CHARIE: Same here. Our church was big huggers during our giving (INDISTINCT), and I just miss them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And Tanya, you were saying yes.

TANYA: Yes, I am. I come from a big family. And my mom is still with us. She's ninety-one years old, and she's in better shape than all of us. Just being able to, you know, have her come to dinner. You know, I can't do that now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Charie, what about you?

CHARIE: I'm definitely missing hugging my friends and spending time with them. We didn't do it as much as we used to, you know, we all were like, oh, we'll see each other some time. Now we're definitely going to hang out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Juan, what's the-- what's the first thing you're going to do once you get that vaccine?

JUAN: Probably travel. Just, you know, just be around friends and, you know, go to restaurants, and have things be back and normal. Just, you know, go out in the street and-- and see people walking around without masks.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you hear, you know, Juan and Tanya and-- and Charie talk about their experiences and their hope, do you have a second thought and say, well, why not take some of these measures, like, letting a vaccine or wearing a mask if it gets us back to normal faster?

GABRIEL: No, Ma'am.

MARGARET BRENNAN: None of it makes you question your decision?

GABRIEL: No, Ma'am.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And same with you, Sandy?

SANDY: As far as wearing a mask, I think it's all over. I think this virus is pretty much done. It's just-- we're on the-- the long stretch and our--


SANDY: --the less threat. And that's pretty much it. But you can see the checkered flag, it's already there. So it's pretty much done.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: But as you heard, Doctor Fauci warn this week, the country still has between sixty and seventy thousand new infections a day. And we are at risk of another spike. The virus is not yet done with us. An extended version of our conversation is available on our website.

We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Thanks for watching. I'm Margaret Brennan.

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