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At This Hour

Israel to Offer Fourth Vaccine Dose to Some Groups; New York Mayor Pushes Boosters as Omicron Comes "Like a Freight Train"; Federal Government to Set Up Testing Sites Nationwide; Senate Majority Leader Wants January Vote on Build Back Better; Goldman Sachs Cuts Economic Forecast after Manchin Rejection. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 22, 2021 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here is what we're watching at this hour.

Testing troubles: the White House promises hundreds of millions of COVID tests are on the way. But that's not soon enough for the millions of Americans, who need answers now amid the surge.

Bracing for impact: the Omicron variant not just a threat to public health. It's now threatening America's economic recovery. More on that in a second.

An incredible story of love and war: an award-winning journalist loses her fiancee, a son loses his father. Now their story is about to release as a major film from Denzel Washington.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here, everyone. We begin with the incredibly infectious Omicron variant, forcing many Americans to rethink their holiday plans just three days before Christmas.

New numbers show just how fast this strain is spreading. The latest numbers show cases Houston tripling in just days. Washington, D.C., is now seeing the highest infection numbers since the beginning of the pandemic.

But while cases are skyrocketing, no question, hospitalizations are not. Right now, those numbers are rising steadily nationwide but not spiking, which is important to remember. And there are developments from overseas that could suggest where this is headed for all of us.

Israel now rolling out a fourth dose of the COVID vaccine for people over 60 years old, medical workers and people with suppressed immune systems. The U.K. is cutting the self-isolation period from 10 days to seven for vaccinated people who test positive for COVID.

Back here, President Biden is trying to reassure Americans, vaccinated Americans, that they can safely celebrate the holidays still. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The best thing to do is get fully vaccinated and get your booster shot. No, this is not March of 2020; 200 million people are fully vaccinated. We're prepared. We know more. We just have to stay focused.


BOLDUAN: Now to New York, where the mayor tells CNN, it's going to be a tough few weeks ahead, where people are still finding long lines to get COVID tests. But it's also one of the first cities where the federal government will be setting up new testing sites. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is live in New York City with more on this.

What are you seeing this morning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: We're at this location, where it's almost like a bazaar of COVID tests; three different labs, three different companies that have set up shop on 42nd Street just outside of Bryant Park.

This is kind of what we're seeing all across the city, these pop-up sites, private labs that are opening and servicing people and PCR tests and rapid tests. Other places, some of the other private owned businesses, have shut their doors today to help deal with the staffing.

The mayor saying they're opening up over 100 sites, mobile sites, new sites where people can come for testing because the demand is so high. Over 14,000 people have tested positive in the latest numbers, down a little bit from 15,000.

But nonetheless, because the demand is so high, they need to open more sites. The mayor saying they're going to go ahead and do that.

Despite all that, the mayor sounding a positive tone today, saying people really need to stay safe but they need to continue to live their lives.


BIDEN: I want to thank the business leaders for joining us today, as well as members of my cabinet and the White House team.

Before getting an update from my supply chain task force, I want to say a word about the progress our economy has made this year and how my administration will continue to tackle the cost increase that the American people are facing.

At the end of 2021, with what one analyst described as the strongest first-year economic track record of any president in the last 50 years --



MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), NEW YORK CITY: Omicron is here, it's coming on like a freight train. But what we know from our health care leaders is the booster makes a huge difference in minimizing the effects of Omicron.

We're not telling vaccinated people to stop living their lives. We're saying, climb that ladder of vaccination. If you haven't done the full vaccination course yet, go do it. Keep living, because we're not going to shut down.



PROKUPECZ: And that's the thing, Kate. Really the mayor here making a big push on the vaccinations and also the boosters. As you know, the city now offering $100 through the end of the year for anyone who goes to a city-run site to get boosted.

But the key right now for most folks obviously is to get tested before getting together with family members on holidays and before traveling. That's why these lines will probably continue until the holiday.

BOLDUAN: Shimon, thank you so much for that.

As we well know, testing, as Shimon is talking about, is the centerpiece of President Biden's new action plan he announced yesterday. Joining me for a focus on this is Dr. Michael Mina, the chief science officer at eMed, a health care company that provides at- home COVID-19 testing kits.

He's also a former epidemiologist at Harvard University.

Thanks for coming back, Dr. Mina. You were just on, on Monday. I'm so happy to have you back to discuss what we've learned, what was announced. You've been calling for more testing and more at-home testing for a year.

What does a half-billion at-home rapid tests being sent out mean if they're delivered sometime in January?

DR. MICHAEL MINA, CHIEF SCIENCE OFFICER, EMED: To me it represents forward momentum and forward motion from the administration, to start taking testing as a public health tool in this pandemic seriously.

I think that 500 million tests spread out over a few months is not going to make a major dent. But if it's just spread out over everyone in the U.S., so my hope is that the tests will be used strategically. It's something we haven't done yet in this pandemic, is really create a testing strategy.

If we do, then we can make a relatively small number of tests, just over one per person in the U.S., go a much further way if we use them in very specific approaches or with very specific populations. So I feel that this is a good start and I think that it's really demonstrating that the administration is trying to move forward with this.

BOLDUAN: President Biden was defensive yesterday when he was pressed and asked about the criticism that you and many other health officials have leveled, that this decision, this move should have been done a long time ago. Let me play this.


QUESTION: Is it a failure that you don't have an adequate amount of tests for everybody to be able to get one, if they need one right now?

BIDEN: No, it's not, because COVID is spreading so rapidly, if you notice, it just happened almost overnight, just in the last month.

QUESTION: What's your message to Americans, who are trying to get tested now and who are not able to get tested and who are wondering what took so long to ramp up testing.

BIDEN: Come on, what took so long.

QUESTION: I'm hearing that from people who are trying to get tested now before the holidays.

BIDEN: Well, what took so long is it didn't take long at all.


BOLDUAN: "It didn't take long at all."

As an expert and advocate in this very specific field, what do you say?

MINA: Well, it has taken long. The U.S. is behind our peer nations on this particular issue of rapid testing. We did take a slightly different approach. We put a massive, massive effort toward vaccines.

My personal feeling was that that was always a bit shortsighted. We needed to keep all the other mitigation strategies in mind and prepare for today.

Even if today with Omicron never came, we would have preferred to have been much better prepared. So I think we do have an opportunity, I think we need fundamental change in terms of how we're regulating these.

Our federal government and our FDA still, to this day, does not recognize that there is such a thing as a public health use of a test and every test is authorized as a medical device, which greatly slows down the ability to get these tests out into the hands of Americans.

BOLDUAN: That's a very interesting wrinkle in all of this.

If this is the start, not the finish line in terms of boosting testing capacity, Doctor, where does capacity need to get to, to be truly effective? MINA: So I think we are moving into a new phase. Omicron is going to blow through the population. By the end of January, we're going to probably see cases dropping; a lot of people are going to have been infected and, unfortunately, tens of thousands or more will have died.

But by the time we get to February and March, we need to start thinking much more strategically about not just blanketing the entire population with tests but how do we get these rapid tests to be used for treatment?

We know that early treatment with things like a Pfizer and Merck drugs are going to be essential.

How do we allow somebody to use a rapid test in their home and immediately get a prescription for one of these lifesaving drugs, based on that?

So we need to preposition the tests in vulnerable individuals' homes.


MINA: We need to use these for test-to-stay programs, to keep kids in school. We have to create the strategy. And it's not going to require billions and billions of tests moving forward but hundreds of millions per month are going to be needed.

BOLDUAN: That's actually very interesting.

I was going to ask you, what's the one thing the administration must do to make this a successful strategy and not just a one-off?

The way you say it is important, blanketing the country, anybody who wants one can try to sign up for one.

Is it about being strategic, being a little more decisive and specific on where these are positioned?

MINA: Exactly. We can use a very simple analogy. We know that we have Navy SEALs and these elite soldiers. And they're strategically trained. They use strategy. And a small number of people can go a very long way in our battles.

It's no different in a battle against a virus. If we really use strategy, if we say what are the tools we're going to need to enable these tests to work best. I work for a company now called eMed, focusing on creating strategy around making the tools and the tests go further than just putting them out in people's homes and asking them to use them once.

And if we do that, if we start creating strategy at a more fundamental level, then we don't have to be scaling up and running out of tests at the grocery stores and at the pharmacies. We'll have enough for where they're needed to be used.

BOLDUAN: Until then, would you advocate a strategy of rationing tests for those who -- I don't know, who are symptomatic? They would be the front of the line to get one of these rapids, would

you advocate that?

MINA: What we're seeing, Omicron is fundamentally changing things. What I would suggest is the rapid test today, if you get symptoms, assume you're positive, because symptoms are coming on very early. There's a number of reasons for that.

Sometimes the rapid test doesn't turn positive until day two or three. So maybe don't use it right on day one because you're anxious; quarantine, assume you're positive and use it on day two. That would be a good use, rather than just trying to use them as fast as possible because we, unfortunately, find ourselves with Omicron in a position, where we just don't have enough tests to enable people to do the type of frequent, serial testing I have been calling for for almost two years now.

BOLDUAN: So interesting. Dr. Mina, thanks. Appreciate it.

MINA: Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us still, the rapid spread of Omicron is dimming the outlook for the country's economic recovery now in the new year. I'll talk to a top analyst about that next.





BOLDUAN: At this hour, the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, says he wants a vote on the president's agenda when Congress comes back in January. Schumer laid out the timeline on a conference call with Senate Democrats last night, the first since the negotiations over the Build Back Better blew up on Sunday.

CNN's Manu Raju has the latest.

Manu, what are your sources telling you about this call and what they plan to do?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no consensus on how to proceed right, now in large part because senator Manchin simply is not there with where the Democrats are.

There was a discussion last night, an air-clearing session of sorts; Joe Manchin made clear that he's not there. His arguments, he says he's been consistent for months. Some Democrats don't believe he has.

He says he has been, whether it's about inflation, debt, his concern about temporary programs in this proposal, concerns that this will hide the true cost of the bill. He made that very clear specifically to his colleagues that this

proposal, if it were to become law, would not accurately reflect the amount of debt that could be incurred on the American public.

He got pushback from Democrats, saying that what Manchin is saying does not actually reflect the true nature of things. Also Chuck Schumer made reference to the economist Mark Zandi and the concerns about the impact of not passing this bill could have on the economy as well.

Nonetheless, Joe Manchin is not there at the moment and the question is how they proceed. Schumer made clear he does plan to schedule a vote sometime at the beginning of the year to open debate on that larger bill. He needs 50 Democrats to do that. Manchin is not there.

So that means that, if this bill goes down at that point, which is expected that it will, then they'll have to try to see if they can get some sort of consensus on the smaller package, something that could potentially get the backing of the various factions in the House and Senate.

But Kate, what does that look like?

What will Manchin get behind that the progressives can get behind?

That is a process that will take weeks and could ultimately lead to nothing. For the moment, I'm told Manchin told his caucus he's not on board but he's still willing to talk.

BOLDUAN: Great reporting as always, Manu. Thank you so much.

As Manu just mentioned, Leader Schumer has a close eye on the economic impact of their negotiations, as he referenced in the call. Goldman Sachs trimming its growth forecast for early 2022 after Manchin torpedoed the White House deal.

Schumer also citing Mark Zandi, who joins me now.

Mark, thank you for being here. Looking ahead on the impact -- your outlook to 2022, you told my colleague, Matt Egan, this.


BOLDUAN: With Omicron looming and D.C. in disarray, the risks to economic recovery next year are not inconsequential and are rising.

Are you changing your economic outlook now for 2022, Mark?

MARK ZANDI, ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: Yes, Kate, unfortunately. I think Omicron is already doing significant damage to the economy. You can see it in spending on credit cards for travel and restaurants. We've got all kinds of anecdotes.

The National Hockey League has suspended play. We can see what's going on, on Broadway. So unfortunately I do think we'll see a much weaker start to the year than I thought before. Just to give you a number to give context, before Omicron was on the

scene, I thought Q1, first quarter GDP growth, the value of all things we produce, would be strong. It would grow something like 5 percent.

But now I think it's going to be closer to 2 percent. We obviously need to see what else is going with Omicron. It could be lower than that. So that's not even considering what would happen if Build Back Better doesn't become law. That will also have an impact on growth in early 2022.

BOLDUAN: That's really interesting, Mark. That's a big change in your forecast, down to 2 percent when you were expecting potentially nearly 5 percent.

You think the impact, solely because of what we've now learned with Omicron, that's not even factoring in the demise of Build Back Better?

ZANDI: Exactly. I think the case study here for us is what Delta, the Delta wave, did to the economy back in the summer of this year, the third quarter of this year. GDP growth before Delta, expectations, including my own, were for a very strong quarter, 5 percent, 6 percent growth. It ended up being about 2 percent.

So Delta did a lot of damage to the economy back in the summer. I think at this point, I think we can, at least, expect Omicron to do as much damage.

The other thing to look at is what's going on in Europe, particularly the U.K., the United Kingdom. They've been leading us by three, four, five weeks with regard to the waves of the pandemic.

You can observe what's happening to their economy. They are restricting business activity and other social forms of gathering. You can see the impact starting to gather here. So, yes, I think it's pretty clear we're going to see much weaker growth in the early part of the year. And the risks are obviously pretty high here.

BOLDUAN: When Chuck Schumer is citing you and making an argument for Build Back Better and arguing the economy will suffer if they don't pass the bill, should he not be citing you?

Because your forecast isn't even factoring that in, with how dim you see early 2022.

ZANDI: No, he's got that right. If we get no Build Back Better legislation -- let's just say it completely fails and we get nothing coming out of Washington. That's going to cut at least a half a percentage point off of growth and probably a bit more in calendar year 2022, for the entire year as a whole. That's consequential.

A lot of that will happen early on. That child tax credit, that's a big part of the Build Back Better legislation. That's a tax break to families with children, particularly lower and middle income households. That's going to expire January 1.

The folks getting checks in December aren't going to get money in January. That's going to be a hit to the economy right away.

No, I think that's right. There's been all this Sturm und Drang over the aspects of the Build Back Better. I think at this point we should focus on the growth aspects. I don't think inflation is going to be the issue people think it is.

BOLDUAN: So if this is what your forecast is for early 2022, what are you seeing then for the rest of the year?

ZANDI: Well, the good news, Kate, is the waves come and hopefully go. Again, Delta is a pretty good case study. The year is ending up pretty good before Omicron came on the scene. We saw really strong growth in the fourth quarter.

And that's because Delta started to wind down, people getting healthy and going back to work, supply chains getting back in order. We started seeing things coming back in place.

I'm hopeful we'll get on the other side of Omicron as we get into March, April and May and we get back on track. This all goes to a broader point and that is, this economy is still very closely tethered to the ups and downs and all-arounds in the pandemic. Until we get control of the pandemic, we're going to see a lot of risk here.

BOLDUAN: I was going to ask you, Mark, the president has made clear that the country is not headed for another round of shutdowns and lockdowns.


BOLDUAN: He keeps saying this is not March of 2020.

But do you think the U.S. economy could sustain another round like that?

ZANDI: Well, I don't think we're going down that path. We shut businesses -- we came to a complete standstill. And that was devastating to the economy, to jobs, to unemployment.

We are in a very different place today than we were two years ago. So not arguing that. But I think it is pretty clear that the pandemic is still doing real damage and has an impact on the way people behave, the sheltering in place they do, the amount of travel they do.

It affects businesses because people get sick. You can't -- people can't go to work or they're fearful of going to work. It scrambles supply chains because other parts of the world have different protocols. We're not going to shut down here.

But China will shut down. If China shuts down, it has impacts on all the supply chains that originate in Asia. So even though this isn't early 2020, we're not going down that very dark path, it's still going to do some damage here.

And we need to focus on getting on the other side of the pandemic, vaccinating, doing all the things we need to do to make sure we control the pandemic.

Also, I think Washington is going to have to be on high alert here. We may need some more help to keep this economy together as reasonably gracefully as we can.

BOLDUAN: Potentially even another rescue package. Mark, thank you so much. It's great to see you.

ZANDI: Sure thing, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, another former top Trump official now taking legal action against the congressional committee investigating the insurrection. What Michael Flynn is trying to block the committee from seeing. That's next.