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Florida Governor: Colleges Should Return Tuition If Classes Not In-Person; Confusion Over Covid-19 Testing Procedures and Accuracy Remains; Twitter Suspends Marjorie Taylor Greene's Personal Account; White House Unveils $1 Billion Plan to Lower Meat and Poultry Prices. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired January 03, 2022 - 15:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: COVID cases in Florida are soaring. The state has experienced a 948 percent increase in new infections over just the last two weeks. But officials there say they cannot require students to wear masks because a new Florida law bans mask mandates for kids.

Let's bring in Dr. Lisa Gwynn she's the presidential of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She's also associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami. Doctor, thanks so much for being here. So, that law in Florida that bans mask mandates for kids, that was before the Omicron outbreak. So, do you think that it is time for schools to revisit their mask policy now?

DR. LISA GWYNN, PRESIDENT, FLORIDA CHAPTER OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: Absolutely. We believe that it is vital that we revisit the mask mandates because this variant is so very infectious and it seems as though you can be in closer proximity to get infected. So, yes, that would be a perfect case scenario, but one that I'm not sure we will be able to achieve here in the state of Florida.

CAMEROTA: I'm not sure you will either because it's a law now so obviously it takes a lot to unwind that. And also just today, your Governor Ron DeSantis, I mean, feels very, very strongly about in- person learning, and obviously he has, fully I think, on the record, not appreciating mask mandates at all for kids. Here's what he said today about colleges and in-person learning.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): You're seeing some of these other universities around the country, some of them are even doing shelter in place over Omicron for, what, a 20-year-old college student? I mean, it's absolutely insane what's going on. Our universities are going to be open. Our state universities, they're going to have in- person instruction, and I think any university that doesn't do that should have to refund 100 percent of the tuition to the parents.


CAMEROTA: I think what he's calling shelter in place, he means isolation, which is if you test positive. I think that's what he means because we had a hard time searching for what exactly he was referring to. But the larger issue there is should in-person instruction be mandatory in Florida colleges right now?

GWYNN: I think that the bottom line is that the medical experts and the university administrators should be working together to come up with the best solution in order to keep our students safe. We all agree that in-person learning is the best way for children and young adults to learn. However, we are still in the middle of a pandemic, and it is evolving as we speak. And so now is the time. It's more important than ever for us to make sure that we listen to the science and to the medical experts and not trying to go rogue and make decisions based on opinions and economics, which it appears as though that might be where he's going with that statement.

CAMEROTA: Let's look at what's happening with hospitalizations in Florida with children. So much like the country, it is going up as you can see in terms of coronavirus hospitalizations, not as badly as it was in September, but it's heading in the wrong directions. Here it is for the U.S. it's going up dramatically for kids in hospitals. And I just want to know, are you seeing kids being hospitalized for COVID or with COVID? When they get to the hospital for some other malady, is it turning out that they're positive for COVID or are these actual COVID hospitalizations.

GWYNN: So far, the evidence is pointing to a direction of it being -- children being admitted for other reasons, and that they incidentally test positive for COVID, which is good, which is good news for us in the case of pediatrics. However, the hospitalizations are going up because infection rates are skyrocketing, and so that's really what we're seeing so far.

I actually just checked in with our county children's hospital, and that is exactly what we're seeing here in Miami-Dade County even though our infection rates are through the roof, and our hospitalizations are increasing, for the most part about 75 percent of those kids are being admitted for other reasons, and they test positive for COVID.

CAMEROTA: That's really good news. I was alarmed, though, when I heard the former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb say that Omicron, which appears right now to be more mild in adults might be more problematic -- is the word he used -- in children because it's presenting an as upper respiratory virus, which is more dangerous, I think, for under 5-year-old kids. Can you just explain that?


GWYNN: Well, we're not quite seeing that yet in the pediatric world. I think it's a little premature. Upper respiratory tract infections can be a little bit more severe in younger children. However lower respiratory disease is always more of a problem, and so we're not seeing that yet, lower respiratory disease in Omicron patients which, again, is a little bit of good news for us in terms of taking care of kids that are in the hospital.

CAMEROTA: For sure. Dr. Lisa Gwynn, thank you, really appreciate you being here.

GWYNN: My pleasure.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm joins me now. He's the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Professor, good to have you. Let me start with a broad question and put up the map. This is the map we've looked at for now two years that shows the trend of cases. It's almost all red in states with 50 percent or more versus the previous week of case expansion.

But when we look at what's happening in these states, full stadiums at bowl games, at NFL games, the mayor of New York says that they're staying open, schools are staying open. Similar thing from Colorado. Is that map, that trend, less determinative or should it be of how we go about our lives?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Well, Victor, if you look at the previous surges of COVID that we've had, they tend to be regional, meaning that we saw the southern Sun Belt states, the Midwest, the far northwest, the upper northeast, all at somewhat different times over the course of the last two years. What's happening with this particular surge, it is a viral blizzard in all 50 states. Basically, it's happening roughly at the same time, maybe offset by two or three weeks.

But the bottom line is the whole country is going to be in the soup. So, anything going on anywhere right now, like that can contribute to ongoing transmission. As you just heard in the last interview, this is a very highly infectious virus. And so, it will find you if you are not protected from infection with vaccination or previous infection.

BLACKWELL: But those who aren't vaccinated, I mean, if you look at what we know about the trend of cases, 400,000 the seven-day average per day now, and that doesn't even count the at-home positives. So, when you look at the percentage of those cases that go to hospitals, it's probably lower than what we know. Is every case now a crisis? Is it as dramatic as it was six months ago?

OSTERHOLM: Well, let's first of all clarify how many cases are occurring in this country. Bottom line is we don't know, and we won't know. Why? Because so many people today are not getting tested. It's difficult to get testing done, and so therefore, that right there cuts the number. In addition, state and local health departments are struggling right now just to get cases reported.

I've talked to health departments in the last several days where they are weeks behind in reporting cases. So, a daily case count means little. What we need to focus on right now and what we're getting at in terms of seriousness, how many people are hospitalized, particularly are requirements for oxygen. That's going to be a lagging indicator, meaning seven to ten days offset from the cases themselves. But it's going to be the best measure we have.

And so, right now, that's what people like myself are tracking is what's happening with hospitalizations. And as you see, we've now got over 100,000 hospitalizations today here in the country. It's rising rapidly. That says this is a really important issue, and that while there may be many, many more Omicron cases of which many are mild, the sheer number of cases means that even if a smaller percentage are severely ill, they're still going to be potentially more of them than we saw with Delta, and that that surely will challenge our health care systems.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about what's happening in Israel. They're now offering a fourth vaccine shot to those 60 and older. They started with those in that age group who were immunocompromised. Is that the next step? I mean, Israel has often been ahead of the U.S. on its vaccine program. Is that what's next for us?

OSTERHOLM: Well, I don't think we can say that's what's next in the sense that we're all looking carefully at how to best use these vaccines. They're remarkable tools but they're not perfect. If we end up finding ourselves in a position where we need to basically boost someone every six to seven months, that's going to be a challenge. We can't do that for the world. And so, I think you're going to see a lot of discussion over the course of the next month or two as to just how should these vaccines be used.

We went from a two-dose mRNA vaccine approach to a three-dose. Now some places are looking at four dose, particularly for those who are immune compromised, and I think that the final answer is not in yet, how often we're going to use the vaccines.

BLACKWELL: There are a lot of final answers that aren't in yet. Professor Michael Osterholm thank you so much.


CAMEROTA: All right, now to this. The freshman Congresswoman from Georgia who traffics in misinformation has finally been kicked off Twitter for spreading dangerous nonsense, and like clockwork Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is coming to her defense, sort of.


BLACKWELL: Twitter has permanently banned the personal account of Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.

CAMEROTA: The company confirmed to CNN that Greene was banned for, quote, repeated violations of our COVID misinformation policy. But her Congressional Twitter account remains active. CNN's Donie O'Sullivan joins us now. So, Donie, by the way, it's not just twitter. Greene says that Facebook blocked her account for 24 hours.


But now should we just expect her to start spouting crazy crap on her Congressional Twitter account?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's a real possibility. Look, these platforms they really don't want to do this, right. They really don't want to shut down the accounts of elected officials.

Both Jack Dorsey, formerly the Twitter CEO, and Mark Zuckerberg have said they believe that you know what politicians say even though it might be ugly, even though it might be false they veer on the side of leaving it up so people can be held accountable.

But obviously in this case Twitter decided that the amount of misinformation, particularly about COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine that Marjorie Taylor Greene was spewing that they had to take action here.

Interestingly in the past -- over the past few hours, the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy didn't name Marjorie Taylor Greene but did issue a statement saying that he wants oversight, and he wants these platforms to be held accountable for silencing, he said silencing a certain American so Kevin McCarthy seemingly coming out in support of Marjorie Taylor Greene here.

But of course, she still has access to her other Twitter account and many other social media platforms, so it's not as if she has been removed from the internet or even Twitter entirely.

CAMEROTA: Yes, we should all just brace for what's going to come out of that Congressional account. Donie O'Sullivan, thank you.

O'SULLIVAN: Thanks, guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, you've seen it at grocery stores, the cost of meat is sky high. President Biden is looking to ease those issues. We'll tell you how, next.



CAMEROTA: The White House just announcing a new plan to fight the spike in meat and poultry prices.

BLACKWELL: Now the plan includes investing a billion federal dollars in family-run and independent producers and the president met virtually with some of those producers this afternoon. CNN business reporter Matt Egan is watching this one for us. So, there're some people who don't like the plan from the White House. What's their issue?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Well, Alisyn and Victor, first we have to acknowledge what's happening is on the price front. Americans are really dealing with some serious sticker shock here in the grocery store. Check out some of these price gains. Chicken prices up by more than 9 percent from a year earlier in November. Pork up nearly 17 percent. That's the most since 1990. And bacon and breakfast sausage up almost 18 percent. That's the most on record.

And these price spikes are driven by really strong demand, COVID- related supply issues and then higher costs for energy and for labor. Now the White House is arguing that a lack of competition in the meat industry is making matters worse. Here's what President Biden said a short while ago.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The big companies are making massive profits. While their profits go up, the prices you see at the grocery stores go up commensurate. The prices farmers receive for the products they are bringing to market go down. This reflects the market being distorted by lack of competition. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Capitalism without competition isn't capitalism. It's exploitation.


EGAN: So, what is the White House going to do about it? The president's action plan calls for investing $1 billion federal dollars in independent meat processors through grants and loans. This is all aimed at boosting competition.

They also want to launch new regulations into combating abuses here. They are planning to roll out a Product of USA labeling rules so that people have a better sense for where their meat is coming from and they're also launching a new way for farmers to report anti- competitive concerns to the Justice Department and the USDA.

Now the Chamber of Commerce is not happy here. They are calling the Biden plan misguided and they're arguing that the administration basically using these high prices as an excuse to launch an antitrust crackdown.

Led me read you a key line from Neil Bradley, the chief policy officer at the Chamber. He said that isn't economics. It is politics. And sadly, such government intervention would likely further constrain supply and push prices even higher.

Now most people want to know when they can actually see the relief on prices. And some experts do tell me that Biden's plan could help eventually, but a senior White House official told me that this is not going to necessarily happen overnight. This official said this is something that can help in the medium term.

Alisyn and Victor, I think all of this shows that the White House is trying to prove that it takes the high cost of living seriously, but there are no quick and easy fixes here.


CAMEROTA: OK. Matt Egan, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thanks, Matt.

CAMEROTA: Wait, what? That's one of the top phrases people want banished in 2022. I like, wait, what?

BLACKWELL: I'm going to add something to the list that they didn't remember that needs to go.

CAMEROTA: What? Oh, you're going to add -- that's a tease.

BLACKWELL: That's a tease.


BLACKWELL: This whole thing was a tease, wasn't it?

CAMEROTA: Actually, this whole thing is a tease. You're right. OK. We'll circle back. That's another one. Next.



CAMEROTA: Wait, what?

BLACKWELL: Yes, that is the number one phrase on the just-released annual banished wordlist.

CAMEROTA: Here are the other words people want retired or phrases. No worries. I think no worries has charm. Why do we need to retire it? Maybe just a vacation.

BLACKWELL: Let it go. Let I go.

CAMEROTA: At the end of the day. That being said. Asking for a friend.

BLACKWELL: Yes, asking for a friend can go because it really is never for a friend. There's also, circle back, deep dive, new normal, you're on mute, which we need.

CAMEROTA: We need that.

BLACKWELL: And supply chain. Can we add, it's the personality for me. Putting "for me" at the end of everything. Let that go. Leave that in 2021.

CAMEROTA: That's a no from me, dog.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's put that on the list, too. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.