Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Omicron Makes up 90 Percent of Infections in Some parts of the U.S.; Poll: Worries Grow Over Serious Illness Because of Omicron; Bill Gates: We Could be Entering Worst Part of Pandemic; FDA Authorizes First Pill for COVID-19 Treatment; Jurors in Ex-Cop Kim Potter's Trial Indicate Possible Deadlock. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 22, 2021 - 12:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: I'm Kate Bolduan, thank you for sticking around top of the hour. We begin with Omicron and the White House scrambling to meet the challenge posed by this variant. The first hurdle finding enough tests to meet the demand by that mark, there's work to do.

The White House is pledging 500 million tests sent to homes nationwide, a big number, but still one that represents fewer than two tests for every American if they want them also at a time when demand is greater than ever, as people are looking to get tested before the holidays.

The numbers so far also suggests that we have a rough road ahead; cases are way up in some places like Houston tripling in just days and now another sign from the sports world of how bad the situation is? The National Hockey League deciding that it will not be sending any of its players to the Olympics in Beijing, but a silver lining; hospitalizations are rising but not spiking not yet.

All of this underscoring what the experts have been telling us which are that the best way to stay safe is to get vaccinated - get vaccinated and make sure you have a booster. Let's start with Elizabeth - CNN's Elizabeth Cohen, on the very least of Omicron and the current hotspots. Elizabeth, where are the pressing concerns right now?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Alright, Kate. Let's take a look at the United States. When you look at this map, red is bad. That's where you're seeing the most dramatic increases. And so you can see we have six states in dark red that are seeing increases in cases of more than 50 percent week over week, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, New York, Hawaii and New Jersey.

And we you know, certainly we are hearing about the long lines for testing and parts of some parts of those states, as well as the hospitals being overloaded. And if we look nationally, we can see the cases are up 23 percent deaths are up 11 percent and vaccine doses administered this one is a real punch to the gut down 19 percent. You know really hoping that as people see Omicron unvaccinated people who see Omicron taking over that they will get the message they should have heard months ago, which is get yourself vaccinated Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Elizabeth, thank you for that. So Israel is not waiting any longer to try and wait to find out how severe this variant proves to be? Announcing that it plans to provide a fourth vaccine dose to people over 60 and those in high risk groups just a few months after the third dose. We have more for you from Jerusalem.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: I'm Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem. The day after Israel became the first country in the world to recommend a fourth dose of the COVID vaccine. Initially it will be made available to over 60s medical workers and people with suppressed immune systems.

But if history is any guide, it'll quickly be rolled out to other age groups and then the rest of the population. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hailed the decision by the government's panel of Coronavirus experts as wonderful news. Do not waste time he said go get vaccinated.

The move to add a fourth shot is just one of a battery of measures being pursued by the government as Israel battles the Omicron variant and the fifth wave of the virus. Others include expanding its red no fly list to include countries like the U.S. and Canada, reducing the number of shops and food outlets and shopping malls available to people without proof of vaccination or recovery.

Shifting half of all public sector employees to work from home from Sunday, I'd move to distance learning in areas where there is a high prevalence of COVID and vaccination uptake among children is below 70 percent

On Tuesday, Israel's daily COVID caseload fell from more than 1300 to just over 900 that the number of tests also dropped, possibly due to a major storm blowing through the country. Going forward, the Israeli government expects cases to resume their upward march knowing that the best it can hope for is to slow Omicron spread.

BOLDUAN: There is also new data out today on how Americans are feeling about all of this? Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows that the number of Americans somewhat worried about getting seriously ill from COVID is up 20 points from last month.

It also finds 54 percent of vaccinated Americans now say they are more likely to get a booster because of the Omicron variant. There's a lot here to look into. Harry Enten joins me now he's been looking at the numbers for us, Harry this new polling offers some interesting insight into how Omicron is impacting the way we view the pandemic at this point. How worried are people about this new strain?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're not panicked, but they're more worried. So if we compare the latest data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, what we saw a month ago, there are a few things I want to point out here. One, the not worried at all is down significantly from 35 percent in November to now 16 percent. So people are clearly sort of getting off there but they're clearly a little bit more worried. You also see the somewhat more worried up from 20 percent to 35 percent now but the very worried not really that much higher 10 percent in November versus 14 percent now.


ENTEN: So when you put it all together I think people are more worried but they're not panicking just yet.

BOLDUAN: And is this threat of Omicron? Is it doing anything to push vaccinate? How much is it doing to push vaccinated people to get another shot?

ENTEN: Yes, I mean, look, if you look at the data, what you essentially see is yes, more people who are vaccinated are in fact getting the booster. But when you compare the November numbers, right, have or definitely or probably will get a booster among those who had at least one shot, it was 72 percent.

Now you look at the December data and you say, OK, have they had or is Omicron made them more likely to get a dose if you haven't, in fact, on the booster? It's 77 percent. So there's not a large difference between those data. What I will say is, what that tends to suggest is, is that the people who are already going to get it Omicron has made them much more likely to get it more quickly.

BOLDUAN: Yes, sooner. So what about the unvaccinated then Harry is there any - is any of this changing how they feel?

ENTEN: No, no. I mean, no. I feel like we keep going through this. If you say OK, FCM vaccinate, does Omicron make you more likely to get vaccinated? Look at that percentage. It's just 12 percent, 87 percent say no. And we do this all the time, whenever there's something new that comes out.

OK does this make you more likely to get vaccinated among the unvaccinated? We always see no. So the question is, is there anything that actually makes the unvaccinated more likely to in fact, get a first dose? And what the data shows us is that no, not really.

In fact, if you ask the unvaccinated anything, convince you to get a vaccine 48 percent say nothing, nothing. Well, 12 percent say more research and transparency, how much more research do you need? We know that vaccines work, it's crazy. Work requires at 6 percent pay together, just 5 percent.

But if you look at the data over and over and over again, there just doesn't seem to be much we can do to convince the unvaccinated, which is truly a - because the fact is, we know the vaccines work, and we know they can prevent you from getting a symptomatic case and more than that hospitalization, severe illness and perhaps even debt. So folks get vaccinated if you haven't yet. And if you haven't gotten a booster, go get one. BOLDUAN: Well, what the numbers that you're showing here, that you just showed - what they really reinforce is the challenge and what the government and local governments and local hospitals and doctors are, have been and are and continue to struggle with? This 48 percent as a number that's pretty impossible to overcome if they don't change your mind, it's good to see you, Harry. Thank you, buddy. I really appreciate.

ENTEN: I don't get it. Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it. Joining me right now for more on this is Dr. Megan Ranney, Emergency Physician and Associate Dean of Public Health at Brown University. Dr. Ranney let's start there about with this poll, 48 percent of unvaccinated Americans saying that nothing will convince them to get the shot.

Omicron is not impacting them, not Delta - not the Delta wave, not the threat of Omicron which leads me to wonder, should the administration and health officials kind of take this number to heart and start shifting the goal away from full vaccination to something else?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE: I think they've already taken this number and tried to move beyond it. You know, they put executive orders in place around mandating large businesses; health care facilities to have their workers get vaccinated. That's because they recognize that more information is not going to shift behavior mandates do.

Those mandate, orders, of course, are being held up in the court, which limits their effectiveness. I think it's also why we're seeing an increasing emphasis on rapid testing on supplies. And now with a Biden/Harris Administration's announcement yesterday on shoring up the health care system that is crumbling under the weight of unvaccinated COVID cases, recognizing that they can only do so much.

The last thing that I think that they can and should and am doing is working with community leaders. I think we're at a point where the vaccine and the virus has been so politicized, that statements from Biden, honestly even statements from Trump aren't going to move people.

We need trusted messengers from individual communities to go out there and talk about the vaccine in order to shift that last group of folks into getting the vaccine.

BOLDUAN: That is the very thing I heard from an Emergency Physician in South Bend, Indiana last night and speaking about how they're at 127 percent capacity at Memorial Hospital in South Bend. And that's what you know, and that's exactly what he was talking about.

Bill Gates, Dr. Ranney was - is out just this morning with a pretty dire warning. He tweeted that we could be entering the worst part of the pandemic what we're entering right now. But he also it seems to be something of good news that he also seems to see saying that Omicron moves so quickly that once it becomes dominant in the country - in a country, the wave there should last less than three months. [12:10:00]

BOLDUAN: There's limited data on kind of how long it last and how severe it is right? It's all happening in real time but what do you think of that?

DR. RANNEY: I think in every wave of COVID, over the last two years, we have seen new variants peak and then drop over a relatively short period of time. The trouble with the United States is that we are not one small region, right?

Even with a Delta variant we saw a surge in the south and southeast in the summer, and then we saw Michigan in the Midwest. Now we're watching Delta very overtake the Northeast. And meanwhile Omicron is coming in. So yes, Omicron may surge and then decrease in se New York, where we're seeing some of the earliest signs of increasing cases.

But what that's going to mean for the rest of the country is still to be determined. I wouldn't be surprised if we continue to see Omicron surges over months to come, rather than those short waves that individual small regions will see simply because we're such a big and diverse country.

BOLDUAN: When it comes to treatment, the FDA could actually be issuing an emergency use authorization for one or both of the antiviral pills that are under consideration as early as today. What would having these treatments on the market change about the pandemic?

DR. RANNEY: This is one of the few pieces of bright news this week around COVID. PAXLOVID in particular, the Pfizer pill has the opportunity to transform the way that we treat COVID. So let me explain what it is.

Basically, it's a pill that you need to take within three days of testing positive, that has been demonstrated to dramatically decrease the number of hospitalizations, severe disease deaths, among folks who are unvaccinated in the face of not just the Delta surge, but also the Omicron surge.

This can allow us to get treatments to people in the comfort of their own home, recognizing that our healthcare systems are overwhelmed across the country, right? It's a prescription that we can call into a pharmacy someone can go pick it up, and then potentially avoid the hospital.

This is particularly important because two of the three monoclonal antibody treatments that we've been using to try to avoid hospitalization, seem to not work against Omicron. So I'm really hopeful about these approvals again, particularly for the Pfizer pill.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it feels like right now, in this moment, though, that approval can't come cannot come soon enough. Dr. Walensky has the confirmed that the CDC is considering reducing the required isolation time for vaccinated people who test positive. The CEO of Delta Airlines for one is formally asking her to do that UK is moving in that direction. From 10 to seven days, do you think the CDC should do that is a risk?

DR. RANNEY: So there's actually pretty good science that if you are fully vaccinated, asymptomatic and have a couple of rapid negative antigen tests, chance of your being infectious is almost none. I think this is a great example of following the evolving science around COVID-19, how it spreads and how we control it?

However, here's the caveat. I would want us to make sure that it works that we can do it logistically and that it's not being used as an excuse to force sick workers to come back. So I think that the devil is in the details of how it is implemented?

If it's truly used only for asymptomatic vaccinated people who happen to test positive, terrific, but if it's expanded beyond that, it can cause a lot of harm.

BOLDUAN: It's interesting, a great point. Thank you, Dr. Ranney.

DR. RANNEY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the jury in the Former Police officer Kim Potter's manslaughter trial poses a question that is raising a lot of eyebrows to the judge, a live report from the courthouse next.



BOLDUAN: And we do have breaking news just in to CNN. The FDA has just given emergency authorization for the first oral antiviral treatment for COVID a pill made by Pfizer. Let me bring back in Dr. Megan Ranney.

Dr. Ranney, literally as we were finishing our conversation, the news just came in your reaction to this.

DR. RANNEY: I am thrilled. I am going to work in the emergency department tomorrow evening and having this as an additional tool in my toolbox for patients who are coming in with new diagnoses of COVID is just going to be tremendous.

Now this is not a magic bullet, and it does not substitute for vaccination. Vaccination is still better than taking a pill. And the pill will of course have side effects. But this is the first major new therapeutics that we have had in a very long time.

And it's going to transform the way that we can treat COVID-19 and help to avert those dreaded hospitalizations, ICU stays and death.

BOLDUAN: Some of the data just so people know when we had Pfizer CEO on the show, he was talking about the data coming in and how effective they've seen it? It is taken within three days of first symptoms 89 percent effective cutting the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent and still extremely effective, if even taken within five days, the first five days of symptoms. I think it's 88 percent effective. What should people know, today, Dr. Ranney, because a lot of people are seeing, you know, maybe beginning to be symptomatic today.

DR. RANNEY: So there are a couple of things. First is this is the importance of getting quick testing. And of course, our testing infrastructure is crumbling right now in the face of Omicron. So a rapid antigen test may be your best friend if you're starting to be symptomatic because it allows you to have that positive test and then get treatment.

The second thing to know is that although this has been approved it is not going to be widely available right away.


DR. RANNEY: So before you come into the ER or go to your doctor's office expecting to get a prescription, I would try to give them a call. First, I expect that this is going to be rolled out across the country. It may be limited in access for a period of time.

The third thing to know is again, this does not substitute for vaccination. Vaccination is just as if not more effective than the pill. But this is again an added thing to know about if you are someone who is high risk so elderly or have multiple chronic conditions for progression to severe disease.

BOLDUAN: Albert Bourla when he was on the show, Pfizer CEO, he called this a game changer. And he said that they believe they'll have pills to roll out almost immediately, we'll obviously be getting more detail on exactly what that means. Who would you recommend take this pill.

DR. RANNEY: So folks who are older, so age 60s, 65, plus people who are immunosuppressed people with risk factors for severe disease, obesity, chronic lung disease, heart disease, some groups of children as well, and folks who are diabetic who are higher risk for many of the worst outcomes from COVID-19.

BOLDUAN: This is great information. Dr. Ranney. Also, you know, I know that folks are going to wonder what this pill means how it holds up against the Omicron variant? This was a big question. And there is good news on that front, right?

DR. RANNEY: That's exactly right. So obviously, the level of testing of PAXLOVID against Omicron is not as robust as the original testing simply because Omicron has only been around for a month. But preliminary testing does suggest that it still works against the Omicron variant, which is terrific news, especially as we are facing so many other things that are falling to the wayside unfortunately, in the face of this new variant.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Much more to come on this breaking news, how quickly these pills can be accessed but thanks for jumping back on to react to this Dr. Ranney.

DR. RANNEY: Thank you. It's great news for all. BOLDUAN: A silver lining some better great news - good news that we needed this week for sure as you said thank you again. I want to turn now to this. The jury in the trial of Kim Potter is now in its third day of deliberations. Their last questions to the judge before they wrapped last night is raising big questions still today.

Potter is the Former Minnesota Police officer who faces manslaughter charges for mistaking her gun for her Taser shooting and killing Daunte Wright. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus at the Courthouse in Minneapolis for us once again, Adrienne, what about that question? And what's happening now?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate it signals there may be some sort of disagreement among the jurors. So far, there have been three questions on the record, one of the three members of the jury wanted to know if the jury can't reach a consensus, what is the guidance surrounding the steps they should take and how long they should deliberate.

Judge Chu responded by rereading instruction she gave them on Monday, saying impart deliberate with a view toward reaching an agreement Kate.

BOLDUAN: Adrienne, thank you so much for that really appreciate the update. Joining me now for more on this our CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Chief Charles Ramsey and CNN's Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, Elie let me start with you.

So the jury sending this question to the judge asking - their question was what happens if we can't reach consensus? And the judge sends them back saying you keep trying, essentially, but does that tell you that they are headed toward a deadlock?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It could tell me exactly that Kate. This is a note that no prosecutor wants to see because it suggests we could be looking at a deadlock and a missed trial. In order to get a guilty verdict you need all 12 Jurors unanimously and same thing for a not guilty verdict you need all 12 jurors, if they're anywhere stuck in the middle, 6-6 or 11-1, that's a mistrial. It's a hung jury.

Now importantly, prosecutors can retry that however, it's still a setback for the prosecution. The next thing if we get another note from the jury saying we're still deadlock judge, what do we do? The judge will give what's called an Allen Charge, which is named after an old Supreme Court case, where the judge will say essentially, don't give up your individual beliefs.

But you really have to work hard to get to unanimity if humanly possible; it works to break a deadlock sometimes not often, but sometimes.

BOLDUAN: Chief another question coming from the jury is that they wanted to take pot - they wanted to get the zip ties off Potter's gun and take the gun out of the evidence box to hold it. What do you think they get from that? When the major question is how do you mistake your Taser from your gun?

CHARLES RAMSEY, SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: And that is the key question. I mean, the weight of it will be different because the gun will not be loaded. But even with that you can tell the difference between a taser and a firearm.

I mean, she's 26 year veteran. She's been trained, she's been retrained. I mean, that's the whole point of training is to know the difference between the two. The color of it is different you carry it on your opposite side from your firearm.


RAMSEY: I mean all those things to me point toward negligence on her part when she shot, Mr. Wright. So, but I'm sure that's what the jury wants, they want to know for themselves, they want to touch it, they want to feel it. They want to try to visualize perhaps what she was going through at that particular moment.

But it's not just her discharging the gun, there was, in my opinion, just very poor tactics on the part of the other officers that really led this whole incident unfolding, taking him out of the car, knowing he's wanted on a warrant, standing right next to a driver's door that's open with an engine running.

I mean, there's a reason why police take people to the rear of the car, it's so that they cannot escape people wanted on warrants tend to want to escape often. And so it's not a surprise.

BOLDUAN: Now, Elie, let's get it the central question, right, that the jury is going to have to make about Potter's fatal error, which is, is it reckless and negligence? Or is it an accident that was not a crime? This is the entirety of what closing arguments were? That is very hard. How does a jury reach a decision on that?

HONIG: Kate, it's such a human process. We hear these legal terms like, was it negligent? Was it reckless? There's no scientific formula, there's no mathematical formula for when a crime becomes something that's so inexcusable, when an accident becomes something so inexcusable, that it's a crime.

And ultimately, let's remember this jury; we don't see them on the TV broadcast that we're watching. They're off camera, but it's just 12 human beings, 12 Minnesota, they're going to have to apply their logic and common sense to issues like what the commissioner was just talking about when I hold the gun, when I hold the taser.

Is it understandable that she mix them up? Or does it rise to the level where we want to call that a crime?

BOLDUAN: You know Chief, you've talked about training, and I wanted to ask you about this, because this is the question that another gets to another question that the jury had for the judge, which has to do with a defense expert, a psychologist that testified for the defense and he talked about how humans make mistakes even doing - even when doing routine things are trained to do when under when in stressful situations.

Potter, as you said, has been on the force for 26 years. Would someone on a force for 26 years have had the training and experience to avoid something like this in a stressful situation? Do you train for them?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, yes, you try to train for it. But until it actually happens, you don't know how a person is going to react under that kind of pressure. And let's face it, that's a suburban department. I don't know much about it.

But I doubt if they deal with these kinds of situations on a routine basis, like you would in Philadelphia or even Minneapolis. So you know, again, that's the whole point of the training, reality based training many departments are using are putting officers in these stressful situations, they develop the muscle memory so that they know they're reaching for the taser.

They know they're reaching for the firearm, or whatever it is. That's the whole point of training. And she received training and she was even a field training officer is my understanding but in a stressful situation you never know how a person is going to react.

But police cannot afford to make a mistake like that. I mean, she made a mistake, but somebody died. And that that's the difference.

BOLDUAN: Chief thank you! Elie thank you so much! So if you want to get a COVID test before celebrating the holidays with friends and family, a lot of other people are having that exact same idea and trying to make a plan for right now. In New York people are lining up for hours still. Ahead, we're going to talk to a top city official about what's planned to relieve that demand?