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President Joe Biden's Primetime Address to Mark One Year of COVID-19 Pandemic; Biden Outlines Plan To Get U.S. "Closer To Normal" By July 4; Biden: If We Don't Stay Vigilant We May Have To Reinstate Restrictions, We Don't Want To Do That. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 11, 2021 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Is this May 1st deadline that Biden has set on vaccines, is that realistic?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think from a number standpoint, it is. I mean, just getting the number of vaccines out there, 10 percent of the country roughly has been vaccinated so far. So, you're talking about a couple hundred more million doses here.

I think there's two issues though. One, is that you've got to have the infrastructure still to be able to vaccinate people, and you've got to make sure these vaccines are getting to the right places. That has been a struggle.

So, you know, regardless of whether you open up the criteria or not, you still have got to be able to make sure the vaccines get to those places.

But something else, you know, if people, you know, 77 percent of the country think that this is sort of in the rearview mirror or the worst is behind us, they may be right. I hope they're right. But does that also mean they say, you know what, I may blow off the vaccine, I'm not going to go get it.

COOPER: We've seen big rises in Europe in some countries.

GUPTA: Right.

COOPER: Evan Osnos, what are you expecting from the President?

EVAN OSNOS, AUTHOR: I think this is a chance for him to call for action, both individually and then collectively. Individually is calling out people to get the vaccine. We're moving from that phase, the survival phase, really into the phase of taking action yourselves, but also collectively, investing in ourselves, beginning to ask the questions about why it was that so many Americans were so close to being on food bank lines when their jobs disappeared, and beginning to make some of those choices about setting ourselves up for the future.

COOPER: Van Jones? VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, help is on the way. Help

is on the way, and I think that, you know, it's not good enough just to win it, you've also got to spend the win. And I think he is going to do that do that tonight.

Progressives like this, which is not hard to please progressives and Republicans like it so much they voted against it, they still want the credit.

COOPER: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, believe it or not, 50 days in, this is really about Joe Biden's legacy as President of the United States.

I mean, this is the largest anti-poverty program in decades. He is talking about ending a pandemic. And most of all, in many ways. He is trying to tell people that government works. Government can work for you again, and you can believe your government when it tells you something because we've been through the past four years. That hasn't been the case.

He's played the expectations game very, very well.

COOPER: Yes. Now, everyone stay right there. President Biden is walking from the State Dining Room into the East Room for his -- what will be his first primetime televised address to the nation.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening, my fellow Americans.

Tonight, I'd like to talk to you about where we are as we mark one year since everything stopped because of this pandemic.

A year ago, we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked, denials for days, weeks, then months that led to more deaths, more infections, more stress, and more loneliness.

Photos and videos from 2019 feel like they were taken in another era. The last vacation, the last birthday with friends, the last holiday with extended family.

While it was different for everyone, we all lost something, a collective suffering, a collective sacrifice, a year filled with the loss of life, and the loss of living for all of us.

But in the loss, we saw how much there was to gain, an appreciation, respect and gratitude. Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do. In fact, it may be the most American thing we do.

And that's what we've done. We've seen frontline and essential workers risking their lives, sometimes losing them to save and help others. Researchers and scientists racing for a vaccine, and so many of you, as Hemingway wrote, "Being strong in all the broken places." I know it's been hard. I truly know. As I've you told you before, I

carry a card in my pocket with the number of Americans who have died from COVID to date. It's on the back of my schedule.

As of now, total deaths in America 527,726. That's more deaths than in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and 9/11 combined.

They were husbands, wives, sons and daughters, grandparents, friends, neighbors, young and old. They leave behind loved ones, unable to truly grieve or to heal, even to have a funeral.

But I'm also thinking about everyone else we lost this past year to natural causes, by cruel fate of accident or other disease. They too died alone. They too leave behind loved ones who are hurting badly.


BIDEN: You know, you've often heard me say before, I talked about the longest walk any parent can make is up a short flight of stairs to his child's bedroom, to say, "I'm sorry, I lost my job. We can't be here anymore." Like my dad told me when he lost his job in Scranton.

So many of you have had to make that same walk this past year. You lost your job. You closed your business. Facing eviction, homelessness, hunger, loss of control, maybe worst of all, a loss of hope.

Watching a generation of children who may be set back up to a year or more, because they've not been in school because of the loss of learning.

It's the details of life that matter the most and we miss those details. The big details and the small moments: weddings, birthdays, graduations, all the things that needed to happen, but didn't.

The first date, the family reunions, the Sunday night rituals. It's all as exact at a terrible cost on the psyche of so many of us. For we are fundamentally a people who want to be with others, to talk, to laugh, to hug, to hold one another.

But this virus has kept us apart.

Grandparents haven't seen their children or grandchildren. Parents haven't seen their kids. Kids haven't seen their friends. The things we used to do that always filled us with joy had become things we couldn't do and broke our hearts.

Too often, we've turned against one another. A mask, the easiest thing to do to save lives, sometimes it divides us. States pitted against one another, instead of working with each other. Vicious hate crimes against Asian-Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.

At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, they're on the frontlines of this pandemic, trying to save lives, and still -- still -- they're forced to live in fear for their lives, just walking down streets in America.

It's wrong. It's un-American, and it must stop.

Look, we know what we need to do to beat this virus. Tell the truth. Follow the scientists and the science. Work together.

Put trust and faith in our government to fulfill its most important function, which is protecting the American people. No function more important.

We need to remember the government isn't some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it's us, all of us.

We, the People. For you and I, that America thrives when we give our hearts, when we turn our hands to common purpose. And right now, my friends, we're doing just that.

I have to say, as your President, I'm grateful to you.

Last summer, I was in Philadelphia and I met a small business owner, a woman. I asked her, I said, "What do you need most?" You'll never guess what she said to me. She said, looking me in the eyes, she said, "I just want the truth. The truth. Just tell me the truth."

Think of that.

My fellow Americans, you're owed nothing less than the truth. And for all of you asking when things will get back to normal, here is the truth.

The only way to get our lives back, to get our economy back on track is to beat the virus. You've been hearing me say that for -- while I was running and the last 50 days, I've been President, but this is one of the most complex operations we've ever undertaken as a nation in a long time.

That's why I'm using every power I have as President of the United States to put us on a war footing to get the job done. Sounds like hyperbole, but I mean it, a war footing.

And thank God we're making some real progress now.

In my first full day in office, I outlined for you a comprehensive strategy to beat this pandemic.


BIDEN: We've spent every day since attempting to carry it out. Two months ago, the country -- this country didn't have nearly enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all or near all of the American public. But soon, we will.

We've been working with vaccine manufacturers -- Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson to manufacture and purchase hundreds of millions of doses of these three safe, effective vaccines. And now at the direction and with the assistance of my administration,

Johnson & Johnson is working together with a competitor, Merck, to speed up and increase the capacity to manufacture new Johnson & Johnson vaccine which is one shot.

In fact, just yesterday, I announced -- and I met with the CEOs of both companies -- I announced our plan to buy an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

These two companies, competitors, have come together for the good of the nation and they should be applauded for it. It is truly a national effort, just like we saw during World War II.

Now, because all the work we've done, we will have enough vaccine supply for all adults in America by the end of May. That's months ahead of schedule.

And we're mobilizing thousands of vaccinators to put the vaccine in one's arm, calling active duty military, F.E.M.A., retired doctors and nurses, administrators added those to administer the shots. And we've been creating more places to get the shots. We've made it possible for you to get a vaccine at nearly one -- any one of 10,000 pharmacies across the country, just like you get your flu shot.

We're also working with governors and mayors in red states and blue states to set up and support nearly 600 federally supported vaccination centers that administers hundreds of thousands of shots per day.

You can drive up to a stadium or a large parking lot. Get your shot, never leave your car and drive home in less than an hour.

We've been sending vaccines to hundreds of community health centers all across America, located in underserved areas, and we've been deploying and we will deploy more mobile vehicles and pop up clinics to meet you where you live so those who are least able to get the vaccine are able to get it.

We continue to work on making at-home testing available. And we've been focused on serving people in the hardest hit communities of this pandemic. Black, Latino, Native American and rural communities.

So, what does all this add up to? When I took office 50 days ago, only eight percent of Americans after months, only eight percent of those over the age of 65 have gotten their first vaccination. Today, that number, 65 percent, just 14 percent of Americans over the age of 75 fifty days ago had gotten their first shot. Today, that number is well over 70 percent.

With new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the C.D.C. that came out on Monday, it means simply this. Millions and millions of grandparents who went months without being able to hug their grandkids can now do so. And the more people are fully vaccinated, the C.D.C. will continue to provide additional guidance on what you can do in the workplace, places of worship with your friends, as well as travel. When I came into office, you may recall I set a goal that many you

said was that kind of way over the top. I said, I intended to get a hundred million shots in people's arms in my first hundred days in office.

Tonight, I can say we're not only going to meet that goal, we're going to beat that goal, because we are actually on track to reach this goal of a hundred million shots in the arms on my 60th day in office.

No other country in the world has done this. None. I want to talk about the next steps we're thinking about.

First, tonight, I'm announcing that I will direct all states, tribes and territories to make all adults, people 18 and over, eligible to be vaccinated no later than May 1.


BIDEN: Let me say that again: all adult Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1, as much earlier than expected.

Let me be clear, that doesn't mean everyone is going to have that shot immediately, but it means you will be able to get in line beginning May 1, every adult will be eligible to get their shot.

And to do this, we're going to go from a million shots a day that I promised in December before I was sworn in to maintaining, beating our current pace of two million shots a day, outpacing the rest of the world.

Secondly, at a time when every adult is eligible in May, we will launch with our partners new tools to make it easier for you to find the vaccine and where to get the shot, including a new website that will help you first find a place to get vaccinated and the one nearest you. No more searching day and night for an appointment for you and your loved ones.

Thirdly, with the passage of the American Rescue Plan, and I thank again the House and Senate for passing it, and my announcement last month of a plan to vaccinate teachers and school staff, including bus drivers, we can accelerate massive nationwide effort to reopen our schools safely and meet my goal that I stated at the same time about a hundred million shots of opening majority of K through eight schools in my first 100 days in office.

This is going to be the number one priority of my new Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona.

Fourth, in the coming weeks, we will issue further guidance on what you can and cannot do once fully vaccinated. To lessen the confusion, to keep people safe, and encourage more people to get vaccinated.

And finally, fifth, and maybe most importantly, I promise, I will do everything in my power, I will not relent until we beat this virus.

But I need you, the American people, I need you. I need every American to do their part. That's not hyperbole. I need you.

I need you to get vaccinated when it's your turn and when you can find an opportunity. And to help your family, your friends, your neighbors get vaccinated as well. Because here's the point, if we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July, the fourth, there's a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.

That doesn't mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together after this long, hard year that will make this Independence Day, something truly special, where we not only mark our independence as a nation, where we begin to mark our independence from this virus.

But to get there, we can't let our guard down.

This fight is far from over as I told the woman in Pennsylvania, I'll tell you the truth. On July 4th, with your loved ones is a goal. But a goal, a lot can happen. Conditions can change.

The scientists have made clear that things may get worse again, as new variants of the virus spread. We've got work to do to ensure that everyone has confidence and the safety and effectiveness of all three vaccines.

So my message to you is this: listen to Dr. Fauci, one of the most distinguished and trusted voices in the world. He has assured us the vaccines are safe. They underwent rigorous scientific review.

I know they're safe. Vice President Harris and I know they're safe. That's why we got the vaccine publicly in front of cameras for the world to see, so you could see us do it.

The First Lady and the Second Gentleman also got vaccinated.

Talk to your family, friends, your neighbors, and the people you know best who have gotten the vaccine. We need everyone to get vaccinated. We need everyone to keep washing their hands, stay socially distanced and keep wearing the mask as recommended by the C.D.C.


BIDEN: Because even if we devote every resource we have, beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity, and national unity isn't just how politics and politicians vote in Washington or what the loudest voices say in cable or online.

Unity is what we do together as fellow Americans because if we don't stay vigilant, and the conditions change and we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track.

And please, we don't want to do that, again. We've made so much progress. This is not the time to let up.

Just as we were emerging from a dark winter into a hopeful spring and summer, it is not the time to not stick with the rules.

I'll close to this. We've lost so much over the last year. We've lost family and friends. We've lost businesses and dreams we spent years building.

We've lost time, time with each other. And our children have lost so much time with their friends, time with their schools. No graduation ceremonies this spring. No graduations from college, high school, moving up ceremonies.

You know, there's something else we lost. We lost faith in whether our government and our democracy can deliver on really hard things for the American people.

But as I stand here tonight, we're proving once again something I've said time and time again, and so you're probably tired of hearing me say it, I say to foreign leaders and domestic alike, it's never, ever a good bet to bet against the American people.

America is coming back. The development, manufacturing, and distribution of vaccines in record time is a true miracle of science. It's one of the most extraordinary achievements any country has ever accomplished.

We also just saw the Perseverance rover land on Mars. Stunning images of our dreams that are now reality. Another example of the extraordinary American ingenuity, commitment and belief in science and one another.

And today, I signed into law, the American Rescue Plan, a historic piece of legislation to deliver immediate relief to millions of people. It includes $1,400.00 in direct rescue checks, payments. That means a typical family of four earning about $110,000.00 will get checks for $5,600.00 deposited if they have direct deposit or in a check, a Treasury check.

It extends unemployment benefits. It helps small businesses. It lowers healthcare premiums for many. It provides food and nutrition. It keeps families in their homes, and it will cut child poverty in this country in half according to the experts.

And it funds all the steps I've just described to beat the virus and create millions of jobs.

In the coming weeks and months, I'll be traveling along with the First Lady, the Vice President and the Second Gentlemen, and members of my Cabinet to speak directly to you, to tell you the truth about how the American Rescue Plan meets the moment. And if it fails at any point, I will acknowledge that it failed, but it will not.

But how after long, dark years, one whole year, there is hope and light and better days ahead if we all do our part.

This country will be vaccinated soon. Our economy will be on demand. Our kids we back in school and we will have proven once again that this country can do anything: hard things, big things, important things.

Over a year ago, no one could have imagined what we are about to go through, but now, we are coming through it and it is a shared experience that binds us together as a nation.

We are bound together by the loss and the pain of the days that have gone by.

We are also bound together by the hope and the possibilities of the days in front of us.

My fervent prayer for our country is that after all we've been through, we'll come together as one people, one nation, one America.


BIDEN: I believe we can, and we will. We're seizing this moment, and history, I believe will record, we faced and overcame one of the toughest and darkest periods in this nation's history. The darkest we've ever known.

I promise you, we will come out stronger, with a renewed faith in ourselves, a renewed commitment to one another, to our communities and to our country.

This is the United States of America, and there's nothing -- nothing -- from the bottom my heart I believe there is just nothing we can't do when we do it together.

So, God bless you all. And please God, give solace to all those people who lost someone, and may God protect our troops.

Thank you for taking the time to listen. I look forward to seeing you.

COOPER: The President speaking of accomplishments and loss, setting big goals signaling what we all hope will be the end of the worst year this country has seen in generations.

Back now with Van Jones, Gloria Borger, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and the "New Yorker's," Evan Osnos.

Gloria, it was interesting. You know, we talked about the Commander- in-Chief. I mean, tonight, he really was sort of the commander-in- grief, acknowledging -- , I mean, he spent a lot of time early on acknowledging the extent of the losses, not only, you know, taking out a piece of paper that had the number of 527,726, which is the death toll thus far.

BORGER: And he spoke in great detail about what everybody in this country has missed this past year. How you miss being with your family, how you missed seeing your parents, how you miss seeing your grandchildren.

COOPER: It is the details of life that matter.

BORGER: It is, and this is Joe Biden, this is what he talks about. This is who he is, it's the details of life.

And I was thinking back to when former President Trump spoke after he had COVID, and he said, don't let COVID dominate your life. And what Joe Biden just did was recount to us how it has dominated all of our lives, and then gave us some hope, some realistic hope, saying I'm going to tell you the truth, but there's light at the end of the tunnel.

But here is what we -- not I -- what we have to do together as a country and as a nation to get out of it.

COOPER: There were also -- I mean, you know, as a country, we've grown used to boasts and threats and jibes during speech like this. There was none of that tonight.

JONES: Not even against the Republican Party that voted against it.

COOPER: That's what so --

JONES: The beauty of that --

COOPER: He got this legislation passed without any Republican support and it is a huge legislation. He hardly talked about it.

I mean, it wasn't until really the end there that he even mentioned it.

JONES: Yes. Look, I just think that he is the guy we need right now. When he talked about, I'm going to heal the soul of America, a lot of people thought that was some corny stuff. But to see the President of the United States standing up there, he didn't say you need me. He said, I need you. I need you.

I mean, my God, that is -- isn't that it? We need each other. And then the inclusivity. It is the little touches.

He didn't just say the states, he said and the tribes and the territories. He talked about the rural Americans. He's got money in there for rural Americans.

He talked about corporations coming together, and he stuck up for the Asian-American community that's been living a horror for this entire time. And there was nothing about it, where he was taking shots at anybody.

He didn't blame the other party for not being there. He told the country that we can get this done. And it was just -- the tone was different, tangibly, it is different in terms of who he is helping, but this is exactly what we need right now.

OSNOS: Joe Biden once mentioned to me that the hardest thing for a leader to do is to make a case for doing hard things that will prevent the worst outcome, because you have to persuade people that if they do nothing that the worst will come. And that's what he set out to do tonight. What he said was, it's not on me, it's on all of us. I'm here doing my

part. But in a sense, the only phrase he didn't use tonight that we all hear from him is, here's the deal. He was making a deal.

He is saying, we're doing this part, but it's conditioned on all of us taking this to heart.

You know, he -- first thing he did when he moved into the Oval Office was he hung a portrait of FDR. He's been talking about FDR for a year. When I talked him about it last year, he said, the reason why I admired what FDR did in the Great Depression was that it wasn't ideological, it was practical. It was taking the steps that had to be done to prevent the economy from going into the tank all the way up in to World War II, just taking practical steps and leveling with people. That's what he's trying to channel.

COOPER: It's interesting, Sanjay, he talked about science a lot, not sort of saying that the vaccine rollout was a victory of business or leadership, it was science and repeatedly talked about the importance of science.


But he's facing a situation now where, you know, in a number of states, they're getting rid of their mask mandates, they're opening up businesses to 100% capacity. And while he didn't address those states, outright by name, he certainly was trying to get across the idea that, you know, it's too soon, don't, you know, fall back now.

There is a big danger out there of what we're seeing in Europe with these variants and the reaction to it.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt, we've seen what could possibly happen here. But, you know, it's interesting, because he's really got to thread this needle, people are really looking at this, 77% saying that the worst is behind us. So how do you maintain that sort of optimism, and still tell people to be careful. Look, it's challenging, you know, I think, with regard to the various states in a public health measures, that's one thing that people are starting to lift those in those states. On the other hand, they're also saying this administration, you can go to nursing homes now, you can go to long term care facilities and things like that, things that people couldn't believe, you know, a few weeks ago could be possible. They're saying it's OK now.

So it's all signaling, this sort of new phase, and it's going to be a fine balance, because you don't want to -- you still want people to be careful, you still want them to get vaccinated and still be optimistic all at the same time.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think part of his message was, we're here to help you. Government is not the deep state. And as he said, you know, it's not some capital somewhere, the, you know, he said, we're here to help you. And so, you know, you have to believe me, you have to restore your trust and your faith in what we are doing and understand that we're not lying to you. And we want you to get the vaccine, not because of any political statement, and we want you to wear a mask, not because of a political statement. But because it will save lives and get us out of this pandemic.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I think it's a deeper kind of patriotism. There's this kind of cheaper patriotism that separates the American people from America's government, and says, I love Americans, people, I hate America's government. And he said, the government has us, is a democracy.


JONES: The government is us. And he's calling for a whole of government and whole of society approach. And when he's bragging on those competitors, I've got two corporations that are competing, and they're helping us, we're working together, those are the kind of, you know, touches, they kind of just suddenly suggested, maybe we can start helping each other.

COOPER: I want to go CNN's chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, who's in the East Room, when the President spoke just made it out onto the lawn. Kailtan, what were your impressions?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was notable how much he was trying to connect really with the camera as he was speaking. You often just saw him leaning on the lectern in front of him crossing his hands, lowering his voice at times and really trying to connect, it seemed like with this message, you know, really going for that kind of a fireside chat is what it looked like to us in the room. There were very few of us in the room, I should note, just a handful of reporters and photographers. And I didn't see any senior staff in the room. But the one person I did see standing at the back was the first lady. And she seemed to be listening pretty intently as President Biden was speaking.

And of course, he went over so much of what we had expected him to say with the announcements about May 1st, and who is eligible for the vaccine about July 4th, what that could potentially look like. But two other things that also stuck out to me was one, he was talking about how much of this is still on the American people talking about the federal government's efforts, but saying it is up to people to get vaccinated when they actually can get the vaccine, encouraging their friends to do so, talking about vaccine hesitancy that health officials have expressed so much concern about. But also saying that if we do not make progress, if we start to lose some of the progress that we've made, we could see restrictions reinstated. And he seemed to take a moment to say, I really don't want that to happen.

And then of course, you saw him continuing to go into speak and taking not a direct shot at his predecessor, but saying that during this pandemic, one thing that has happened is people have lost faith in the federal government and these institutions to be able to take care of situations like this, what they are supposed to be primed for. And they've lost faith in that, they no longer count on them in hard times, is what President Biden said. And that seemed to be a direct response to the handling of the pandemic by the last administration.

COOPER: Yes. Kaitlin Collins, appreciate it.

I mean to Kaitlan's point. I mean, it wasn't just at that point that he was kind of dissing the previous administration. It was right off the top when he talked about denials for days. He didn't, you know, name any names. He didn't even call them out as the prior administration. He just talked about, you know, what we have come out of his denials per day is was one of the phrases.


It was very interesting though. I mean this is the first primetime televised address this President has given. We are used to seeing Joe Biden as Vice President, you know, off to the side of President Obama. We've seen him on the campaign trail. We've never seen him in this setting and Kaitlan pointed out him sort of leaning on the podium. There was a sort of grandfatherly approach, I guess to his presentation.

OSNOS: Yes, you know, this afternoon, you saw the policy side of a president signing that bill. Tonight, you saw the pastoral side of the presidency, you know, that's another FDR reference. In a sense, it's a moral office, and he's trying to appeal to people, like some people will feel that he was going in too far. They'll say, maybe I don't connect with him. But he is trying to acknowledge the suffering.

You know, this is a speech that could have been given nine months ago, could have been given six months ago. What was struck me was he didn't say there's light at the end of the tunnel. What he said is, here's how we're building the tunnel. Here's how we're going to get out of the predicament we're in. It was functional, while also trying to say I'm setting expectations. And here's where we're going to go. But it didn't take.

COOPER: We should also be realistic, Sanjay. I mean, they clearly set their sights, their public pronouncements early on low about what they were aiming for. I mean, it was 100 million vaccinations, I can't remember the exact number, but the timeframe, but which was basically what the prior administration, frankly, was already on schedule to do. And we all you know, we all talk about this the time is, well, actually, that's not really like a moonshot they're talking about. Clearly, that was part of their plan.

GUPTA: Yes, I think so. You know, and I think it was, it was so different than what we'd heard, which was sort of over promising before this idea of under promising and then over delivering, I think was true. This was a bit different, though, tonight, you know, even to say by May 1st, everyone's going to be eligible. He said, doesn't mean everyone's going to get their vaccine by then. But everyone will be eligible. But by the end of May, he thinks everyone would really be able to get a vaccine. That's a line in the sand. You know, there's a lot of things to really make that ...

COOPER: That's huge to have that date on people's calendar.

GUPTA: The date. And also, July 4th, you know, he put that on the calendar as well. BORGER: (INAUDIBLE) your barbecue.

GUPTA: Right. But these aren't, you know, it's, I think, very achievable. But I think they're getting more audacious in terms of their goal setting now.

JONES: There's some risk in that because people are going to be looking at their calendars now with some hope. So again, he's putting some things on the line. And I think that's important.

BORGER: I think the thing about Joe Biden is that when people are writing speeches with him, and you know this Evan, he always says, I want to explain this. Well, your grandmother understands what we are talking about in this speech, go back and think about it again. And when I think, when I look at this speech, what he told you was what he wants to do. It's not that complicated. So it's a really complex process. But here's our goals, July 4th, people understand, May 1st, people understand this is the beginning of the sales pitch of the rescue plan. This is what it will do for you, if you've lost your job. If you have kids and you earn below a certain income. This is going to rescue people from poverty.

So, he went through it line by line in a way I think that's quite digestible for the public. And I would presume that the plan would even go more popular after tonight.

COOPER: There were mentioned the fact that the President didn't go after Republicans for not voting for his COVID relief bill. Want to go to CNN's Manu Raju, for reaction on Capitol Hill. I know you're getting word on how President speech was received in Congress by some, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, actually, Republicans have actually said very little so far. Typically, in a speech of this magnitude of primetime address Republicans. The opposition party would have their message lined up, they would probably be quick out of the gate and attacking the party -- present from the other party. They have not yet perhaps I will still come. We're not expecting any formal comment from Mitch McConnell.

Tonight, the Senate Republican leader we'll see if House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy does issue a statement. I'm told that could come shortly. Mitch McConnell did offer a pre-bottle of sorts earlier this morning to the President's speech. He said that the Democrats that are trend President Biden or just want to sprint in front of the parade and claim credit, that was the argument from the Republicans going in. Democrats though Anderson taking a victory lap of sorts. Chuck Schumer just tweeted, Democrats, he said Democrats promise big bold COVID relief and we delivered. Anderson.

COOPER: Manu Raju, thanks. Again, that's language you didn't actually hear from the President saying that kind of stuff.

Coming up next, the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky on the news we just heard the President make and what it means to all of us in the weeks ahead, we'll be right back. (COMMERICAL BREAK)


COOPER: During a speech, President Biden promised further guidance on what those who are fully vaccinated can and can't do. He said the guidance would lessen the confusion and encourage more people to get vaccinated. Later he said quote, if we all do our part, this country will be vaccinated soon.

We're joined now by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Dr. Walensky, when I suppose the president few weeks ago, he said that every American want a vaccine would be able to receive one by the end of July. Tonight, he says he wants states to make all adults eligible by May 1st, which underscores the race that we're in. Is the situation even more urgent tonight than in recent months, given the variants and states opening up?

ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Good evening, Anderson. Thanks for having me. I'm delighted that we now can see that we will have enough vaccine to vaccinate every American by the end of May, the timeline is moved up because we have been working really hard to ensure that we have those vaccines available. That said, you know, we are in a race against the variance, we know the more virus that replicates the more variants will emerge. And what we really don't want to see as another surge right now is people are starting to ease restrictions as a state -- some states have light up the mask wearing and what we really want to do is with the line of sight of getting every American vaccinated having enough vaccine to do so that we just take our eye off the real goal of making sure that we keep these surges down.


COOPER: To that point, President Biden just said that things may get worse as the new variants spread, which was a quote variant first discovered in the UK is now prevalent in Italy, that country today recorded its highest number of new COVID cases since November. There's a new surge of cases in Germany, where the same variant first discovered in the UK is now detected in 55% of new cases. Are you confident that here in the US we can avoid these kinds of surges that other countries are facing? Or why would we be able to if that is true?

WALENSKY: This is entirely up to us. The CDC has estimated that the B117 variant, the variant from the UK will likely be the dominant variant by the end of March, we're on track for that to be the case. We know that it's about 50% more transmissible than the wild (ph) type variant. And so, we really do need to maintain these control measures, these mitigation measures, masking, distancing, hand washing, all the things that we've been saying, so that we can get this country vaccinated. We're at 10% now, but we still have 90% of people who are susceptible, which is why March and April are really so critical to watch and so critical not to get your keep your guard down.

COOPER: So is your message to citizens, not officials, but citizens in Texas and Mississippi and other states that have given up on the mask mandate is what to citizens to what still wear their masks?

WALENSKY: My message is, you wear your mask, not because your governor tells you to, you wear your mask because you want to protect yourself. You want to protect your loved ones. You want to protect your community members. And the other message is these vaccines are safe. These vaccines work they prevent you from getting severe disease. They prevent you from being hospitalized. They have been tested, these trials have included over 100,000 people, and we really need people to want the vaccine to get the vaccine.

COOPER: I know Sanjay has some questions for you as well.

GUPTA: Hey, Dr. Walensky. You know, over the past few days --


GUPTA: -- we've heard from the CDC different recommendations, we heard vaccinated people can do more than previously thought but still not travel. On the other hand, we heard that even if you're unvaccinated, you could visit a long-term care facility. A place that, you know, has been a hotspot as we know, for COVID hospitalizations and deaths. That surprise me Dr. Walensky, how do you reconcile that why allow people to visit areas that are so vulnerable?

WALENSKY: Right. So we are taking really initial steps as we're following the data to ensure that people can start to do some of the things that they miss once they've been vaccinated, visiting with their loved ones, visiting, you know, other vaccinated people in small private settings. Also, among the things that are -- that have been missed, are visiting your loved ones in long term care facilities. We do know that in long term care facilities, many of the residents now are getting vaccinated, we're protecting the residents and the staff. We haven't led up our masking, we haven't led up our distancing. And we've limited our recommendations on our long-term care facilities to places that have low incidence of disease.

So, we really believe that in the balance of making sure these long term care facilities are safe, often with screening programs that we can strike that balance and make sure that people can get to see their loved ones again.

GUPTA: Which makes sense, and I'm sure a lot of people be happy to hear that. But at the same time should vaccinated people then be allowed to get on airplanes. I mean, if you're allowing one thing, does the other thing make more sense?

WALENSKY: You know, we're looking at the data carefully with regard to travel. What we do know is that there's more -- there's about the same amount of travel now has happened and during Thanksgiving. We do know every single time we have escalations in travel that happened around July 4th, that happened around Labor Day, it happened around the holidays. Right after that we have a surge. We are very worried about transmissible variants. A lot of them have come through our travel corridors. So we're being extra cautious right now with travel and we will follow that and updated as soon as we have more data. COOPER: Dr. Walensky, Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University said, quote testing remains an important part of our pandemic response. That'll be free -- that'll be for years now that many people in the country view vaccines as the silver bullet. How will you get the American public to continue to adhere to mitigation measures? Because I mean, testing is already down, isn't it?

WALENSKY: So testing is actually not down, testing is at about 1.1 million tests per day. It's been fluctuating, but it's really been stable. And in fact, if you look at where we were in terms of our test positivity rate, when we have the same number of infections over the summer, our test positivity rate was about twice as high. Meaning right now, we're testing twice as many people as we did then. That said, we still have more testing that we need to do. We need to understand how we're going to test and congregate settings, we need to look at what's going to happen with breakthrough infections. We need to test in our schools because we know that we're not going to have all of our children vaccinated by the time when they should be going back to school in the fall.


So I still think that there's an extraordinary role for testing and we're continuing to scale up those efforts.

COOPER: I mean, you know, come the fall, do you -- will people still be needing to wear masks? I mean, are mask here to stay regardless, obviously, COVID is not going to go away. It may become more seasonal. People will be vaccinated. But will people be carrying around mass with them from here on?

WALENSKY: Yes. I think it's too early to project when we can lose our masks. We're trying to do this step by step. Our first initial step was to get people who are vaccinated seeing other people how we're going to have masks in school in the context of children who aren't vaccinated. I think it's too early to tell.

COOPER: One year ago, you were a practicing physician on the front lines treating patients the Massachusetts General Hospital, you're now the director of the CDC, what are some just personally on your thoughts looking back on this year?

WALENSKY: Yes, it's just been an extraordinary year. I can tell you where I was when my pager went off and said we have a case at Mass. General Hospital. It was March 6th, a Friday morning, it was a cool morning, I was in a conference room. My life changed all of our lives changed at around that time. You know, caring for patients, gowns, gloved, masks, face shielded when they were dying, and you were the only warm hand that they could hold. You know, you there's no words to describe that. Looking, I remember how nauseous I was looking at the document of crisis standards of care how we're going to make decisions about who's going to get a ventilator. I remember being on reopening boards and talking about lives versus livelihoods. How are we going to make these decisions? And of course, I've had my own personal milestones that have been lost. So, you know, this has been an extraordinary year for all of us. And, you know, it started with a lot of hopelessness, a lot of lack of control, a lot of powerlessness. And what I would like to say is going into this next year, we have that hope, we have that power, we have that control, but we need every individual to do their part. We can provide the guidance, but if people are not doing their part to keep the infection rates down and to get themselves vaccinated. We are, you know, this is in our control.

COOPER: Yes. Dr. Walensky, Sanjay, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Up next, we remember some of the lives lost during this pandemic.



COOPER: Tonight, President Biden pulled a card out of his suit coat pocket told the nation how many souls have been lost the virus as of this evening 527,726. More he said than the combined death toll World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War and 9/11 combined. So we end the program tonight we want to remember some of the people who lost their lives during this pandemic. COVID struck all ages, the elderly, the young, even the seemingly healthy, often without mercy, leaving devastation and heartache in its wake.


KATIE COELHO, LOST HER HUSBAND TO COVID-19: It comes in waves. It's very surreal.

COOPER (voice-over): Jonathan Coelho was a cancer survivor who was in good health. But the virus hit him hard. He died at the hospital.

COELHO: I keep thinking in my head. There's going to be a time where I've been without my husband longer than I've been with him and it hurts a lot.

COOPER (on-camera): Yes. I've reached that point a couple of times in my life. And that's a -- it's a very strange feeling. And I'm sorry that you're going to experience that.

(voice-over): For Jonathan, Katie, his wife and their two children were everything.

(on-camera): I mean, obviously your kids are so young, they don't really know what's going on.

COELHO: They don't know that they are lost them greatest human being. And they'll only ever know their dad through pictures and memories and videos. And to me, I feel like that's the worst part of this is that they won't feel the love that I felt for the past 10 years with my husband,

COOPER: (voice-over): Jonathan Coelho was 32 years old.

DAVID HART, LOST HIS HUSBAND TO COVID-19: It's important to be there. And it's important to touch somebody.

COOPER: David Hart and Joseph Consto were married for 28 years. Joseph was a doctor who worked on the front lines, despite having an underlying condition. At the end, his husband David was by his side.

(on-camera): I want to ask you about what happened at the end, I read something that I found extraordinarily moving.

HART: Yes.

COOPER (on-camera): That you took off your PPE. Can you just explain why you did that and what you did?

HART: I had contracted COVID from Joe. At the time he was dying. I was just not going to not be able to touch him with my bare hands with my cheek. So I took everything off. I just took it off. I know I wasn't supposed to do that. But at that point, it was what I wanted to do for him to help support and comfort him.

COOPER (voice-over): Joseph Consto was 56 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was like the best dad, you could ask for.

COOPER (voice-over): Dr. James Mahoney was another doctor who remained on the job, even though his age made it a high risk.

(on-camera): Your dad wanted to be on the front lines no matter what.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was there every day. And he were just really hard and, you know, he did what he had to do.

COOPER (voice-over): James Mahoney died at 62.

MARY JANE FAGAN, LOST HER DAUGHTER TO COVID-19: This disease has robbed us in so many ways, not only because of Adeline's love, but the fact that we couldn't even go in there to be with her and she was so incredibly frightened.

COOPER (voice-over): For two months, Mary Jane and Brant Fagan weren't allowed to see their daughter Dr. Adeline Fagan as she fought against the coronavirus in the hospital. But in the end, they too were able to be with her when she died.

FAGAN: I basically held her until the very end, and that was pretty much it. You know. So we are very thankful that we had that opportunity. So many parents have not been able to, and it breaks my heart.


COOPER (voice-over): Adeline Fagan was 28.

COVID also took the life of a music legend this past year singer and songwriter John Prine, Bonnie Raitt appeared with Prine at an Austin City Limits concert just months before he died. They performed Angel From Montgomery which Prine wrote. BONNIE RAITT, SINGER/SONGWRITER: Was just heartbreaking to all of us that this virus took one of our most beloved and treasured in a world all the world around you'll never be another John Prine.

COOPER (voice-over): John Prine was 73 years old.


COOPER: Our thoughts are with all those who are missing a loved one.

Tonight, the news continues. Let's hand it over Chris for "CUOMO PRIMETIME." Chris?