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Long Lines At New York Testing Sites Amid Surge In Cases; Osterholm: "Viral Blizzard" Is About To Hit The U.S.; Manchin A "No" On Biden's Build Back Better Plans. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2021 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here's what we're watching AT THIS HOUR: COVID surge, more cases, a lot more cases, and now more questions about what Omicron means for the holidays.

Build back later, Senator Joe Manchin is a no on the centerpiece of Biden's domestic agenda. Why Senate Democrats are still promising a vote when they don't have the votes?

And rebuilding Kentucky, devastated by tornadoes with only five days now until Christmas, I'm going to speak to the governor and where they go from here.

Thanks for being here, everyone. We begin the Christmas week with the Christmas week surge in COVID cases as Delta and Omicron variants fuel what experts are calling a grim pandemic outlook. Right now, the U.S. is averaging 130,000 new infections a day. That's 10 percent higher than a week ago and up 70, up from 70,000 at the beginning of November.

New York City, once again is the epicenter of this surge just days before, thousands of people are expected to be packing Time Square for the big New Year's Eve celebration. Dr. Anthony Fauci putting out this warning.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: This virus is extraordinary. It has a doubling time of anywhere from two to three days. Right now in certain regions of the country, 50 percent of the isolates are Omicron, which means it's going to take over.


BOLDUAN: That surge in cases includes three members of Congress now and a sitting governor, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, as well as Congressman Jason Crow, say they've tested positive. And now we've just learned that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, as well, has said he tested positive all of them vaccinated with booster shots and say that their symptoms are mild. Thankfully, there are also some promising news though, there's also some promising news though this morning when it comes to the pandemic well, and vaccines. Moderna is reporting Preliminary data suggests it's COVID Booster is effective against the Omicron variant. At the very latest data from the CDC shows that Omicron accounts for just 3 percent of COVID cases in the United States, the Delta variant 97 percent, meaning it is still the dominant one today.

Jason Carroll is live in Times Square joining us now, Jason, New York's reporting, what is this a third straight day of record cases, what's happening?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's in New York State. But even when you look here, Kate, at New York City, the numbers are trending up as well. New York City COVID cases more than doubled compared to last week. And I have to point out, according to all the data that's coming in, the rising cases, we are seeing mostly among those people who are unvaccinated in terms of hospitalizations, those numbers ticking up as well. But they're not seeing substantial rising in those hospital numbers compared to what we've seen in the past that according to health officials.

And so that's important to keep in perspective as well. Meanwhile, Kate, when you look across the city, we've seen a number of people waiting in long lines, sometimes for hours trying to get a test ahead of the holiday, in terms of going inside drugstores, trying to get a rapid test, a lot of folks going in there and finding that they've been sold out. Well, this morning, New York City's Health Commissioner weighed in on that issue, speaking to CNN about what the city is trying to do to meet that need.


DR. DAVE CHOKSHI, NEW YORK CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: We did see unprecedented demand over the last few days. We've ramped up testing. We're doing more testing per capita than just about any other place in the world. And we're going to continue to ramp it up to be able to meet it. For example, we're adding additional testing sites throughout this week. We have a total of 89 across the five boroughs of the city, just in terms of city sites. And we're also distributing half a million rapid test kits through community based organizations. We'll keep building upon that to meet the demand in the coming days.


CARROLL (voice-over): So the mayor this morning, Kate, just a little while ago said in addition to the 89 testing sites, they're going to be opening 23 additional testing sites in the city by the end of the week. But for now, all eyes are on Time Square and what's going to be happening here or not happening.

The mayor is saying that for now the ball drop is still a go but he is going to make a final decision on that but sometime before Christmas. Organizers who are putting on the ball drops say that anyone who's going to be coming out here has to show proof of vaccination, although they are not at this point requiring people to wear masks but they are highly recommending it. Kate?


BOLDUAN: And you may want to consider how cold it is out there today, regardless. It's good to see you. Thank you, Jason. I really appreciate it.

After nearly two years of this pandemic, it is evident that people are exhausted, and you probably feel it and new polling now shows it, adding to the challenge of keeping people safe when it can mean more tough choices for everyone. CNN's Harry Enten is here with more on this, Harry, some really interesting analysis that you've put together, Americans are exhausted by this pandemic. Everyone feels it. But does that mean that they are less worried or not worried about this Omicron variant?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes, I mean, if you look at the polling data, what you see is that, yes, there are a few more folks who are extremely are very concerned about the coronavirus as compared to a month ago, it's now up to 42 percent. It was 38 percent a month ago. But compare that to a year ago, when it was 62 percent of Americans who are extremely are very concerned about COVID. So the numbers now are much lower.

And part of the reason that's going on, I think, is as you point out, people are just worn out by what's happening. You know, I feel worn out by COVID, the changes to daily life, it's 60 percent overall. And in a pandemic in which there have been such partisan divides, there are no real partisan divides when it comes to feeling worn out. Basically, the same percentage of Republicans at 64 percent, compared to 63 percent of Democrats feel that they're worn out by COVID. And the changes to their daily lives.

BOLDUAN: Yes, worn out is one thing that seems to be pervasive, though. But the question is, how are people actually reacting to all of this, the surge that we're seeing, the concern over Omircron? I mean, are people saying that they're changing the way they're living their lives?

ENTEN: No, in fact, that's what to me is so interesting if you look at the polling data, you know, social distancing, obviously, is something that has been sort of put out there, something that perhaps we should do, but social distance in the last week now, 45 percent, a month ago, it was 44 percent, basically the same. Again, compare that to a year ago, when it was 79 percent, so many fewer Americans are social distancing now as compared to a year ago, and if they're going out, right, if you're going to go indoors and be outside essentially go out, you know, maybe to the grocery store, in light of Omicron, are you very likely to wear masks indoors?

Look at that, just 42 percent of Americans overall say that, and unfortunately, the unvaccinated, the ones who are most at danger, or even less likely to say that at 28 percent of vaccinated were the most protected, 47 percent slightly more than the average in fact, say that they're very likely to wear a mask when they're out, when they go out indoors. BOLDUAN: Well, that also gets to kind of what message works at this point, Harry, because even as Omicron spreads, the data shows very clearly vaccines, especially with boosters are effective, and protect us from getting seriously ill. But at this stage from what you're seeing in the polling, is that fact likely to change any minds at this point among the unvaccinated?

ENTEN: It really doesn't seem so, you know, if you look at the percentage of Americans right now, who say they've gotten at least one COVID vaccine dose are very likely to get one. Right now, it's 80 percent. A month ago, it was 78 percent. Not really much of a change there perhaps slightly higher than three months ago at 75 percent. But again, very small changes and when it comes to the booster, which could really be a game changer, yes, it's true. More Americans right now have gotten a booster than say, compared to a month ago.

But that's really just getting the piece of the pie of the folks who said they were very likely to get one anyway, the same percentage of Americans say they're very like one -- likely to get a boost or have gotten one. And it's just about half of all Americans just at 51 percent. So folks, going to get your booster if you haven't gotten one and you're fully vaccinated, it really could save your life.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Harry, thank you very much for that.

Joining me now for more on all of this is Michael Osterholm. He's director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. It's good to see you again. It's been a minute.


BOLDUAN: I wanted to ask you first about let's start with some of the promising news that we -- has come out today from Moderna, releasing new data saying that its current booster increases, antibody levels, 37 fold and in a bigger dose even more so. And I'm wondering what you think 37 fold should mean to everyone at home in this moment?

OSTERHOLM: Well, right now, the public is incredibly confused by all of this and we have to cut through two different you might say buckets of issues around the variants and Delta specifically in Omicron. Right now, you need that third dose. I wish we stopped calling it a booster. It's a three dose vaccine, full vaccination is that.

Remember right now, Delta is still responsible for so many of the people hospitalized, you need that third dose to keep you from having a breakthrough infection and possibly a severe illness and death. We've had over 800 people here in Minnesota who have died who have been fully vaccinated, but now with the booster.

And so that's important. With Omicron right now what we're up against here is the fact even with that higher level of antibody being put forward by both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, you're still at risk of having serious illness and potentially death if you don't get that third dose. [11:10:18]

So it's very important for both Delta and for Omicron to get the third dose. And right now, Kate, only 30 percent of the U.S. population that had received their first two doses that have had that third dose, what I consider the full vaccination.

BOLDUAN: Right, which is the way you're saying and I think is important, if you -- if we consider it a three dose regimen, there is a very small proportion of the U.S. population, then that is fully vaccinated. That's something that everyone really needs to consider. And you've got -- so then you're dealing with Omicron, right? There's some data, more questions and answers still, there's some data from South Africa and some data from the U.K. on Omicron. But I wonder what you think in terms of, do you think this variant is leading to more severe illness at this moment?

OSTERHOLM: Well, at this point, I think the data do support the fact that there is severe illness with it. Now, what's important, though, and I think you've set this up very nicely, there really are two parts to the Omicron challenge, the media keeps focusing on the transmission, transmission, transmission, which is important. This virus is highly infectious. But the question is, what proportion of those cases end up having severe illness.

And I think what we're coming to is the fact that there will be many, many more infections, there will be less severe illnesses per 100 population or 1,000 population of those vaccinated, but because there are so many additional infections, that will still give us an absolute number of more serious illnesses in a healthcare system that is already breaking in many locations.

So I think we are going to see that. The other thing, Kate, that I think is the perfect storm phenomena here is that come middle of January, this viral blizzard that I've talked about, we are going to see 20, 30 percent of healthcare workers getting infected, who will then be off of work in a healthcare system right now that has already stretched to the point of braking. So I think that we have a combination of events about to happen in January more transmission, yes, less severe cases per population, but overall more in absolute numbers because of the increase transmission and health care workers who were not there.

BOLDUAN: When you talk about the viral blizzard, I actually -- when I -- I was thinking about it this weekend, I'm wondering, are we in the midst of it right now? You still think that is yet to come?

OSTERHOLM: Yes, it's still coming. I mean, what you're seeing right now is Delta. Remember, right now, there was not another Delta virus transmitted in this country today. The cases we're seeing are already in the books, they're already baked in. These are people infected who are going to get ill, or are ill, who will then after a week or two become seriously ill and then die. So remember, right now, the vast majority of deaths in this country are due to Delta.

Now that will change potentially in the next month, as I think Omicron does beat out Delta. And that you can argue is a good thing if it's more or less severe cases. But as I pointed out, there going to be so many more cases, because of Omicron, the absolute numbers of severe illness who could actually go up in this country at a time when will be the least prepared to take care of those patients at any time in the pandemic.

BOLDUAN: So then Professor, what comes after the viral blizzard? What does that look like?

OSTERHOLM: You know, I don't know, you know, a year ago, you know, we all thought that these vaccines were going to come in and basically save us. And that would be over with. You know, last April, actually, right here on this network. I said that I thought the darkest days of the pandemic were yet to come. Nobody wanted to hear that. And what drove me to say that was the variants. You know, I keep hearing that old Fifth Dimension tune in my head every morning and said, This is the dawn into the Age of Aquarius, I keep hearing this is the dawning of the age of the variants.

And when Alpha came along, Delta came along, now Omicron. I don't know what's next. But I think we have to be honest with the public and say, we are learning every day about this virus. And the fact of the matter is, I can't with any honesty say to you, well, it's over with after Omicron. I don't know. And no one I think would -- could provide a data to say that's going to be over with after Omicron.

BOLDUAN: Professor, thank you for being here. Appreciate it.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.


Coming up for us, the White House blindsided. Senator Joe Manchin announcing that announcing he's a hard no on President Biden's social spending plan. But in classic Washington fashion, everyone's left wondering if that's really his final answer.


BOLDUAN: At this hour, we're learning that former President Trump is suing New York's Attorney General Letitia James the lawsuit is trying to stop the agency's office from continuing its investigation into the Trump Organization. So what does this do? CNN's Paula Reid is joining me now with more details on this as they're coming in. Paula, what's happening here?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate in this lawsuit, Trump's attorneys argue that this long running investigation by the New York State Attorney General's Office violates his constitutional rights. Now he and his attorney have long argued that James is politically motivated in her investigation. But for nearly two years, her office has been looking into whether the Trump Organization lied about the value of its assets to obtain favorable loan terms insurance rates and to pay lower taxes. It very closely mirrors an ongoing criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, which has already resulted in charges against the organization and one of its executives. Interestingly, in this lawsuit Trump's attorneys are also trying to block James from participating in that criminal investigation now to support their allegation against James, Trump's lawyers they lay out statements that James has made, including her promise to target Trump, as one of her campaign promises and also subsequent statements that she's made that they argue are evidence of political bias. Now, interestingly, this lawsuit comes as James is seeking to question the former president under oath as part of this investigation next month.


BOLDUAN: Paula, thank you so much for that. All right, so let's turn to this now. Democrats in Washington are scrambling today as a Senator Joe Manchin torpedoes President Biden's Build Back Better bill and thus a big part of his domestic agenda. The senator told "Fox News" that he is now a no after months of negotiations, listen.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can't. I've tried everything humanly possible. I can't get there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're done. This is a no.

MANCHIN: This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.


BOLDUAN: All right, right soon as Jeremy diamond is live at the White House with more on this, Jeremy, how big of a surprise was this actually for the President?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was indeed a surprise, as Senator mentioned, dropped that bombshell the White House only had about a half hours notice that Senator Manchin was going to make those comments effectively dooming the future of the Build Back Better Act. President Biden we're told trying to get Senator Manchin on the phone before he went on "Fox News" to deliver that interview in those remarks, but he was not able to.

And then we saw this scathing statement from the White House that really did reflect the anger and the surprise that many inside the White House, including the President himself felt in the wake of Senator Manchin announcing that he would no longer be negotiating on this, but that he could not move forward with this piece of legislation.

The White House said in a statement, that quote, if his comments on "Fox" and written statement indicate an end to that effort, meaning the effort to find common grounds, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and Senator's colleagues in the House and the Senate.

Senator mentioned this morning so that he expected that kind of a fiery response from the White House, but he expressed his own frustration with White House staff saying that he was at a wit's end, which ultimately led to those comments. Just yesterday, the White House for his part, they say they're not giving up. They're going to try and find a path forward in the New Year. But how exactly they move forward is very, very unclear at this point, Kate?

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you for that. So where does Biden and the domestic -- and the Democratic agenda go from here? Joining me now is Catherine Lucey, White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." Thanks for being here. So the White House Jeremy read part of the statement from Jen Psaki in the White House after this, pretty remarkable slapping back on Manchin.

I want to read another part that stuck out to me from Jen Psaki statement when she wrote after learning of this, just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.

I mean, Catherine, they're saying that he didn't keep his word. They're treading pretty closely to calling him a liar. Is that their intention?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I mean, yea, you are right. And Jeremy was right. I mean, this is really a blistering statement coming from the White House. And it's particularly notable, given the way that they have tried to manage the Manchin relationship and negotiations up until this point, which has been very careful, they've been very cautious prior to now in their public statements, they've consistently said they thought they could work with him.

The President has spent a lot of time and as we know, you know, both in person, and on the phone with Manchin, they really thought that, as that statement says that they were making a progress, you know, maybe not by the end of this year, but they thought that they were, you know, going to be continued to able to deal with him.

And so this really reflects the fury that the White House is feeling right now. And the question then becomes sort of what, you know, what do they do, as you say, what do they do next? You know, do they continue this kind of rhetoric? Do they continue pushing back? Or is there sort of a cooling off period? And are we going to come back in the New Year and see them, try and figure out what they could do in this space?

And then I think the question there is, you know, do they try and scale this back more? Do they try and do less programs? The complaints that you've heard from Manchin have been pretty consistent, you know, even though he's saying now we can't do anything. He consistently raised concerns about inflation, and also about the fact that this bill was going to fund, you know, a lot of programs for a short amount of time. So one question now, I think is do they maybe try and do less programs for longer but that's all going to have to play out and we're going to see if both sides can get a cool off.


BOLDUAN: Yes, I mean it's pretty messy how it's kind of rounding out at the end of the year. I mean they -- what they do next how it might be changed I mean, even before then, you have the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer still promising to hold a vote on this, on this version of bill back better after the New Year, he put out a letter to two member saying senators should be aware that the Senate will in fact, consider the Build Back Better Act very early in the New Year, so that every member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television.

Obviously, he's worrying that for one reason, and one reason only, Catherine. I mean, what does that give the White House if they hold a vote when they at least, think that they do not have Manchin's vote? Is it, do they want to -- are they trying to call a bluff? Like what is this?

LUCEY: I mean, it is incredibly messy. I mean, I think part of what you're seeing you saw this from some lawmakers yesterday, and today, particularly progressives in the party is a desire to yet to really put more pressure on Manchin to make him take a vote, put that on the record, you know, in a formal way. But again, then the question is, you know, how do you then move on from if you do that? Do you then move on from that and try and continue to work together?

But particularly, you know, Kate, as you know, and as you guys have been covering in recent days, if you really, if you step back and think about where the President is ending this year, I mean, it really is has turned into a winter of discontent for Biden.

I mean, you are ending the year with this blow up over the Build Back Better Social Agenda Bill. Omicron cases rising, you know, crashing into the U.S. as we speak, inflation still high, and his poll numbers are low. I mean, this is a very difficult moment for this White House and certainly not the way they were hoping to end the year.

BOLDUAN: Yes. That's for sure. Let's see what kind of reset or reconfigure or restart they can look for in the New Year. It's good to see you Catherine, thank you.

LUCEY: It's great to see you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us closing arguments in the trial of former police officer Kim Potter for the shooting death of Daunte Wright. She took the stand in her own defense. Did it help or hurt her. We're at the courthouse next.