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At This Hour

New York Announces More Than 44,000 New COVID Cases, 14 Percent Increase from Thursday's Record-Breaking Day; Moderna's Chief Medical Officer: Delta is Still Here "Very Strongly"; Hundreds of Christmas Eve Flights Canceled Due to Omicron Surge; Millions of Children Facing Food Insecurity Over Holidays. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 24, 2021 - 12:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: It is the top of the hour. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks for joining us on this Christmas Eve! We begin with new developments in the Coronavirus surge. Airlines canceling hundreds of flights due to staffing shortages, blamed largely on Omicron so if you're one of millions traveling to see family and friends, check your flight.

Infections from omicron now surpassing last summer's Delta peak, the daily average of new cases surging over 182,000 New York State moments ago announced more than 44,000 new cases. That's a 14 percent jump from just yesterday's record breaking day.

And Washington D.C. is reporting a whopping 386 percent increase in infections over the last week. It's again - it's like all against this backdrop that the CDC is making a big change announcing it is shortening the isolation period for COVID positive health care workers, they can now return to work after seven days with a negative test instead of waiting 10 days, all in the hopes of relieving some of the intense strain put upon the healthcare system.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen starts us off this hour live with more details on this. Elizabeth what is driving this decision by the CDC?

ELIZABETH COHEN, SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So hospitals, which are already so overloaded Kate, they could get even more overloaded if a lot of health care workers, doctors, nurses and others get infected with Omicron and have to stay home even though they might not be terribly sick. So the CDC has really placed the power of making these restrictions on the hospitals. Let me show you what I mean.

So the CDC says if a worker is asymptomatic, or just mildly symptomatic and getting better, they can go back to work, not 10 days like the rules now but after seven days as long as they have a negative test. But if the hospital feels like things are bad, and they need to put in a contingency plan, workers can go back after five days with no necessary test, as long as they're asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. And if things are really bad, they can declare a crisis plan. And then there are no restrictions and hospitals can bring workers who are infected with COVID-19 back whenever they want. So CDC has really left this in the hands of hospitals, because of course, lots of hospitals in the U.S. all under different circumstances.

We also have some news about a group that really doesn't get enough attention. And that's the immune compromised in the United States. Today as we speak doses of a drug to help get them protection against COVID-19. If those doses are being rolled out and the reason is that many immune compromised people, they didn't get a great response to the COVID 19 vaccine.

I want to introduce you to four of them. For example, Diane Barron, she's a cancer patient in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, three shots, no detectable antibodies against COVID-19 similar situations for Diane Ellis a kidney transplant patient in Arkansas.

He is a cancer patient in Hawaii and Candy Johnson she's a kidney transplant patient in Virginia. And so the good news is there is this drug that is being rolled out right now that can help give them antibodies because the vaccines didn't but take a look at this.

There are 7 million immune compromised people in the United States; the U.S. government ordered only enough doses for 700,000 of them. That's a problem the U.S. government says they're trying to get more Kate.

BOLDUAN: Elizabeth, thank you! At the epicenter of the omicron surge New York City, which is now scaling back its famous New Year's Eve celebration because of the virus; one of the organizers for the event telling me last hour that while it may look a bit different, the show will go on.


TOM HARRIS, PRESIDENT, TIMES SQUARE ALLIANCE: For us it wasn't if we did this, it was how we did it safely. It's so important to show the world that New York City has found ways to forge ahead in a safe responsible manner.

It's going to look very much like prior years; the crowds just will be less dense. They will be fully vaccinated where mandating that they wear masks, and we're going to welcome revelers into the viewing pens later in the day to reduce the time that they're in the independent.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Shimon Prokupecz in Time Square for more on this. Shimon you've been following the testing crisis in New York that we've been seeing here all week. What is the very latest today?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So we just got new numbers from the Governor across the state 360,000 tests now across the state and the number of people testing positive continues to climb at really just and kind of incredible pace. 44,431 people now testing positive for the Omicron for the Coronavirus, certainly as this these numbers continue to increase of course the city is concerned the status concern but what they're looking at and this is really important Kate.


PROKUPECZ: Is the number of hospitalizations, they say the vaccines are working. And that really what it tells them is because the hospitalizations are not increasing, that is a good sign. And that is why we are seeing the Mayor and other city officials here, say, we're going to allow people into Times Square on New Year's Eve.

We're going to allow less people 15,000 into these viewing pens. Normally, they allow up to 60,000. But they still feel that it's safe enough to allow that many people in with some social distancing. So that's what they're going to do.

But as you can see, the numbers here certainly continue to climb to testing. Yesterday, we were outside a city run testing center. So the lines just continue to wrap around the block. The Governor saying that they expect these numbers to get even higher as they go, you know, we're facing the weekend, the holiday so the testing is going to come down.

But certainly next week, when people come back from the Christmas holiday as they start to come back to the city we're probably going to see these numbers go up again.

BOLDUAN: Shimon, thank you. Thanks for being there. Really appreciate it. Joining me now for more on this is CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He was Medical Adviser to the George W. Bush White House; it's good to see you again Doctor.

You were both pulling double duty I speak to you at night and of the morning. Let's start with the CDC cutting the time that COVID positive health care workers have to wait before going back to work from 10 days to seven days, you do think it's a good idea for hospitals? What about beyond health care workers? We know the airline industry is asking for the same what do you think?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think it makes sense. The key issue for isolation after you has tested positive for COVID is how long you remain infectious? And you know, there is an increasing data set that suggests that people particularly with the new variant may need - may not be as - may not be infectious as long as maybe with some of the earlier strains of this of this virus.

And we have the capacity if people have access to rapid test; we actually have the capacity to understand when people become no longer infectious. So I think seven days in a person who no longer has symptoms and is not test negative is very reasonable to let them out of isolation, not just for healthcare workers, but likely for people working in any industry and for the general public. So we'll see how long it takes the CDC to get to that? BOLDUAN: Yes, for sure. Just the other day, you were telling me that U.S. healthcare workers should already be getting a fourth dose after Israel announced that it was moving in that direction. I want to play for you what Dr. Fauci actually had to say about this yesterday.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF NIAID: If the protection is much more durable than the two doses non-boosted group, and we may go a significant period of time without requiring a fourth dose. So I do think it's premature, at least on the part of the United States to be talking about a fourth dose.


BOLDUAN: And Moderna's Chief Medical Officer said that his position was wanted to wait and see. What are they missing?

DR. REINER: They're missing the crisis in, in health care, I think. You know, many of America's health care workers were boosted in the beginning of September, when this - when this was opened up to health care workers in the United States.

And we have data that suggests that the durability of the booster starts to wane. You know, after three to four months, and many healthcare workers, and I'm included in this group, are now at that four month period.

And if you want to keep people back, if you want to keep people in their jobs in the hospitals, particularly when hospitals are being slammed by this massive surge of cases in places like New York and where I work in D.C., then you need to make sure they're maximally protected.

And I think what the Israelis are doing is a very, very prudent strategy. And the United States is going to come to this realization, when we're really in crisis all over the country, not just in a few cities are a few states in this country, and we need to be more proactive. I've said before that one of the things that have marked the United States response is a lack of nimbleness. You know, we've been really stuck in the mud.

And we've been playing defense this whole time. The Israelis, on the other hand, seem to be much more proactive and are trying to move ahead of the virus not respond to what the virus is doing to them. And I think we should follow their lead here and start to boost healthcare workers as soon as possible.

BOLDUAN: Yes, you know, I was kind of reflecting this virus has surprised people so many times. What is your realistic hope for COVID and how we are - where we are and what we do in this pandemic in the coming year?


DR. REINER: Well, my immediate hope is that we follow what's happening - what happened is happening in South Africa and now, perhaps, in earlier stages in the United Kingdom. And this is a big rapid spike. And the decline is also is also rapid so we can get through this surge quicker than prior surges.

But my hope is that we start to rethink how we live with this virus and we incorporate testing. You know, into our daily lives so that if you have the sniffles, you test yourself and you're negative you go to work. I hope that many more people in this country understand that our paths normalcy goes through vaccination.

And that we can reach the 40 to 50 million people in this country who steadfastly refuse to get vaccinated. This virus will never disappear. This virus will never be like smallpox, where it's just gone. This virus will reside in low levels in our in our communities but with new vaccinations, perhaps a pan Coronavirus vaccine that's on the horizon. And testing will live with us the same way we live within - with Influenza.

It will go down to low levels, we will get our lives back but we're going to need to be smarter and be proactive. We need to invest a lot more in disease surveillance so that we stay ahead of these pandemics. This has been a massive blow we've lost 800,000 Americans.

I fear that we'll lose a million Americans before this is done. But we need to learn from this so that the next time a pathogen affects humanity. We're ready for it and we connect much more nimbly and much more quickly than we have through the past two years.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Dr. Reiner.

DR. REINER: Thank you

BOLDUAN: Up next for us, a reversal from the White House. The president planning to lift COVID travel restrictions imposed in response to Omicron, details ahead.



BOLDUAN: New this morning, the White House plans to lift travel restrictions put in place in response to the Omicron variant. Last month, the president banned travel from eight Southern African countries where the new strain was first identified.

Let's go to the White House for more on this, CNN's Jeremy Diamond is standing by for us. Jeremy, these restrictions face criticism almost out of the gate as being, you know, punitive and ineffective. What are you hearing about this change now?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly did Kate, especially after you know, a few days of those restrictions going into place not only from the United States but a bunch of other European countries, putting them into place, we learned that the Omicron variants had, in fact been spreading already in several other countries in Europe, beyond South Africa, when that went into place. But now the White House is saying essentially that the reason they initially put it in place, which was to try and get a head start on the Omicron variants to understand more about it and to try and slow it spread in the United States. Most of those reasons are now out the door. And this was always intended to be temporary.

And so now what we're going to see is a week from today on December 31th at 12:01 am those restrictions on eight Southern African countries, including South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, they are indeed being lifted, South Africa and those other countries will now be subject to the same travel restrictions that every other country faces.

Meaning foreign travelers need to be fully vaccinated and need to have a test a negative COVID test within 24 hours of their travel to the United States. A Senior Administration Official telling me that the CDC recommended this move to the president saying that with Omicron now present in the U.S. and globally, travelers from those countries presents limited additional risk to the United States.

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, we saw the President and the First Lady at Children's National celebrating with staff and the children there earlier last hour. How are the President and First Lady though spending the holiday?

DIAMOND: Well, they're staying here in Washington D.C. at the White House, at least for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And just moments ago, we saw President Biden make a surprise visit to Children's National Hospital. The First Lady she was scheduled to visit there but the president joining them was a surprise to the children and the staff there at the hospital.

There were a few funny moments, including one of them where you saw one of the children explaining why she drew a blank book saying that she wanted 2022 to be a fresh story. Listen to the President and the First Lady's reaction.


JILL BIDEN, U.S. FIRST LADY: Yes we're hoping for a new story for 2022.



DIAMOND: Yes, the president also obviously would like a fresh story in 2022, not only with COVID raging across the country, but of course, he has his legislative agenda to pick back up in the New Year as well. A lot of challenges on that front too Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Jeremy. Thanks for being here. All right, let's turn back to the record breaking travel that we've been seeing all week. The Omicron surge starting to cause major disruptions there hundreds of flights grounded just before Christmas. CNN's Pete Muntean is live at Reagan National where he's apparently moved in because we're never letting him leave for more on this Pete what is driving these cancellations what are you seeing?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well Kate, you know 500 cancellations here in the United States 2100 globally. And airlines say that as these Omicron cases one up their staffing levels went down which led to these flight cancellations. These are the latest numbers from flight aware 175 cancellations at United Airlines alone 150 at Delta Airlines.

Last night I obtained a United Airlines memo to its staff in which it said these Omicron cases are really impacting flight crews and those who run the airline the operations folks.


MUNTEAN: Now airlines and the industry say there is a way out of this to make sure that these problems don't happen again. They want to shorten the isolation period for somebody who gets a breakthrough case from 10 days, down to five days.

They say that will allow them to keep more workers on the job. The CEO of Delta Airlines wrote to the Head of the CDC also one of the industry's top lobbies, although some airline worker unions oppose this. Even still, though, the numbers are off the charts for those coming in and out of airports across the country.

2.19 million People screened by TSA nationwide just yesterday, and it's just the start Kate between now and January 3rd, 20 million people will fly according to the TSA January 3rd, the next busy day on the calendar. That's when everybody begins coming home all at once, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And we'll see you there. Thank you so much, Pete, I really appreciate it. Coming up, so much more from us nearly 12 million children faced food insecurity last year. Up next, some of the important work being done to meet this enormous need and what you can do to help?



BOLDUAN: Millions of children are getting a much needed break from school for the holidays. But for far too many no classes also means any meals. The number of children facing food insecurity spiked during the pandemic from an already heartbreaking 10 million in 2019 to nearly 12 million kids in 2020.

Joining me now for more on the effort to fix that is Michael Curtin Jr., the CEO of D.C. Central Kitchen. Thank you for being here. Michael, what kind of need is you seeing this holiday season or just this year? What stories are people telling you?

MICHAEL CURTIN JR., CEO, D.C. CENTRAL KITCHEN: Sure. Well, the need Kate continues to grow and D.C. Central Kitchen what we're thinking about now is just what you mentioned, very tied to one of our largest and most impactful social enterprise, which is locally sourced scratch cooked school food.

So we provide breakfast, lunch, snack and supper to 18 schools in the District of Columbia. And when they're on break, or have a holiday or a snow day, which is supposed to be sort of a joyous rite of passage in childhood, we are terribly concerned about them getting the nutrition they need to continue to grow and learn and develop and thrive.

BOLDUAN: You know, and the pandemic has exposed hunger in America in a way we hadn't seen before. You know, in - it's just tragic, especially when schools were shut down. As that's where some children really get their only reliable meal.

60 schools I was looking what virtual ahead of the winter break as the district is getting so hard hit by the - by this virus again. And I'm just wondering how much does that worry you? How much does that increase need? What if they stay, you know, in remote learning after the break and you know, for an extended period of time?

CURTIN JR.: Sure. Well, this has been really driving us throughout the pandemic. Over the course of the last two years, we've set up I had to set up 193 mobile feeding sites across the city not only to meet the students where they are but seniors, individuals with disabilities whose access to services were cut or hampered because of the pandemic.

But what we're doing now, specifically focusing on the kids with the help of Craig - philanthropies we've purchased and are rolling out a food truck, that'll be out in the community next week going around the streets where the schools are, I think good humor with good food, handing out meals to these students who aren't in school.

And if this the remote situation continues, we'll be there every day. And we'll - we're adding another truck to get out into more community so we can continue to meet this growing need that this pandemic presents us with.

BOLDUAN: That's a genius idea, Michael. I love the innovative thinking. You mentioned seniors and seniors are, are also so vulnerable. You're now seeing more senior citizens than ever before. Why is that?

CURTIN JR.: Well, we've often talked about seniors has been the hidden face of hunger. There's a lot of focus on childhood hunger, which is horrible, but all hunger is bad. So the seniors have been impacted by the pandemic and in that they can't get to the places where they had access to food necessarily their incomes go don't go as far as they did because of the rise in prices.

And there's a lot of pride obviously with folks that they don't want to rely on what seen as charity. And so this is where community groups, individuals can really make a difference by coming out being a good neighbor reaching out finding where these folks are reaching out to groups like D.C. Central Kitchen, so we can in turn, get to them and get them what they need.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Well, thank you for being there day in day out holiday or not. Really appreciate it.

CURTIN JR.: Thank you very much. Happy holidays!

BOLDUAN: You too, thank you! Coming up for us, now that Former Police Officer Kim Potter was found guilty in the death of Daunte Wright what his family wants to see happen now their attorney is our guest? Plus, the Department of Justice has just released a disturbing new three hour long video of the January 6 insurrection.

Account not seen before showing one of the most violent conference between rioters and police what we can learn from this coming up?