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Fauci: Too Soon To Know If Omicron Will End Pandemic; Texas Synagogue Captor Had Been Deemed Not A Threat By U.K. Officials; NASA: Giant Asteroid Will Fly By Earth Today. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 18, 2022 - 14:30   ET



NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are big school systems and school districts in Virginia that are just not having it, saying that despite the governor's executive order, they're going to continue to require masks be worn in school reasonably.

They know that masks work, just like the rest of us here, but the Virginia governor saying it should be left up to the parents. School systems in Fairfax, Arlington, as well as Henrico County, saying they're not just going to listen to the governor. They're going to listen to scientists and require students to wear masks in schools -- Victor, Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Okay. Nick Valencia, thank you.

So, some experts seem hopeful that omicron could be ushering in the final COVID wave. But Dr. Fauci says it's too soon to tell.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISR TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: It is an open question as to whether or not omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for, because you have such a great deal of variability with new variants emerging.



Let's bring in now Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. He's an epidemiologist and the former health commissioner for Detroit.

Let's start with what we heard from Dr. Fauci. Maybe this is not the transition to an endemic but is there anything that we should expect in this next phase after seeing hundreds of thousands of new cases every day for weeks?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, EPIDEMIOLOGIST AND THE FORMER HEALTH COMMISSIONER FOR DETROIT: Let me just explain some of the context of this. What Dr. Fauci shared is that if you are not vaccinated and/or you get a breakthrough case, you are getting a dose of immunity from this variant, and we know that it's happening all at once. That's what that huge upward trend looks like. And the question is, is it building a wall of immunity that's high enough to keep out the next potential variant? We know that this virus will keep evolving. The question is, has it reached a sort of end point in terms of the inability of the next variant to scale this immunity wall?

That being said, we know that this kind of natural immunity doesn't last that long, and so the real question here is about timing. At this point, the key issue to remember is that we're still in the middle of an omicron surge. The best single thing that people can do if they don't want to be vaccinated by live virus, as Dr. Fauci put it, is get that third dose. There's evidence suggesting it protects you from the risk of both getting omicron and then certainly getting very sick if you do.

CAMEROTA: Obviously, everyone is at the saturation point with COVID. I mean, obviously, we've been there for a long time and people want to get back to their lives, particularly boosted people.

I think that today, Congressman Tim Ryan was on "NEW DAY" this morning and just talking about the level of frustrations. Let me play that for you.


REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH): We are two years into this, and I think the frustration in families is well beyond what politicians think it is. It is at a very, very fever pitch. There's anxiety, people are working six or seven days a week. Now we're doing virtual school, not virtual school, masks, no masks.

What's going on here? And I just think the lack of clarity is contributing to the level of frustration.


CAMEROTA: I mean, I know that we all feel that. So can boosted people get back -- can they resume now their normal lives in terms of travel, going out, restaurants, seeing people, all of that?

EL-SAYED: There's a couple of questions here to answer yours. The first is, what is an individual's risk tolerance? How willing are you to deal with the potential risk of getting sick because omicron is spreading?

Second, where are you, right? If you're in a part of the community where you're starting to see the level of cases abate, it is probably a less risky proposition for you to go about the kind of things that you would have gone about.

But lastly, let's not forget that hospitalizations are still surging. Here, there is a challenge here. Because when we talk about omicron, we talk about it as being less severe for you or I. The problem is, for us, it is actually quite severe, the level of hospitalizations are hitting points that we had not seen, and this is spreading into the parts of the country that have lagged in the context of this pandemic already.

And so, we have a responsibility to protect our healthcare system and the more we go out there, the higher the probability is that we get infected and potentially pass it on to somebody who might have a worse outcome than we might, hence filling up the hospitals.

And so, yes, it is an individual calculation, but all of us are actually in this together, and when I think about myself, I'm waiting to get back to some of the things that I otherwise might enjoy like eating indoors in a restaurant until I know that the hospital system, my fellow healthcare workers, are not in a situation where I could be adding to their burden.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about this fight in Virginia over mask mandates in schools. Governor Youngkin saying this should be up to the parents.

We have covered school districts versus governors who want to put a ban on mandates. I think it's at seven or eight other states. We all know that masks work. But is there any evidence that you have seen that states that ban mask mandates for schools, those kids are any worse off than states that allow the mask mandates for schools?

EL-SAYED: Well, there's some evidence, but unfortunately, that was from before omicron.


That being said, the evidence points to the fact that omicron would be even more likely to spread in circumstances where people are not wearing masks. This is the time not to be taking masks off but to be improving the masks that our children wear.

I know my wife and I, we upgraded the quality of masks that my daughter wears. We went from a cloth mask to a KN95 mask for her. And so, this is the time to upgrade them. The sad truth of this, and this is the context I hope folks understand, is that there are a handful of governors who see this pandemic as a cynical opportunity to get a political upper hand in the context where they are spreading misinformation even if -- even if people do wear their masks, it reifies the message that says, actually, you don't need them.

But right now is the time where you actually do need them, so I hope that we can come together. We can hold on a little bit longer around this because I know that folks are deeply frustrated, as Congressman Ryan shared, but the only way around this is through it, unfortunately.

BLACKWELL: Yeah. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, thank you.

EL-SAYED: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: The Biden administration's website to order those free at- home COVID tests is now up and running. If you go to, you can sign up to have four tests shipped to your home. Only one order per residential address. CAMEROTA: Now, the White House says this is only the beta phase and it

will be operating at limited capacity until tomorrow morning, so the box of four tests should take between 7 and 12 days to arrive.

BLACKWELL: Yeah. So, order them before you need them.

CAMEROTA: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: All right. Days after a standoff at a Texas synagogue, the FBI is warning that places of worship will likely remain targets of violence. Hear what one hostage credits with helping him escape unharmed.



BLACKWELL: The FBI and Homeland Security just issued a warning to places of worship that they will likely continue to be targets of extremist violence. This weekend, a British man took four people, including a rabbi, hostage at Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Texas. The hostages escaped, and the suspect is dead.

CAMEROTA: The rabbi says one of the things he did was throw a chair at the gunman to get out. At a special service last night, the rabbi expressed gratitude.


RABBI CHARLIE CYTRON-WALKER, SURVIVED BEING TAKEN CAPTIVE: That no one will be saying kaddish yatom for me or for any of us, the mourner's kaddish, this evening. Thank God. Thank God.

It could have been so much worse. And I am overflowing. Truly overflowing with gratitude.


CAMEROTA: CNN crime and justice correspondent Shimon Prokupecz joins us now.

So, Shimon, I know that we've learned more about the gunman today. So, what do you know?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, one of the things CNN had learned is that in 2020, the suspect here, the gunman, was on the radar of UK officials. There was a brief investigation by security services there in the UK, and then they deemed him not a threat and basically closed the investigation.

We don't know what happened after that. Of course, there are still a lot of questions about how he came here, why he was here, and where he was in between his time when he arrived at JFK airport and then made his way to Texas.

So, there's still a lot of questions certainly for the FBI and Homeland Security folks, but this is some of the new information we're getting, and of course, all of this is coming as the FBI and DHS has sent out a warning, really, to law enforcement and to the community saying that they think that there's still a big threat out there, given what's going on both domestically and because of foreign nationals, foreign terrorism, as we saw over the weekend.

They're warning the community that this can go on. This can happen again. They're telling them to stay vigilant, practice good security, do what you need to do to stay safe.

And also telling law enforcement to stay vigilant, keep up their security around religious institutions and the religious community, because they are seeing still a lot of threats online.

Social media, both domestically and foreign threats, that continue and, of course, this is always going to be a concern for law enforcement officials, so they're just warning folks to stay vigilant.

BLACKWELL: All right. Tragic sign of the times. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you.

Joining us now, CNN senior law enforcement analyst Andrew McCabe. He's also a former deputy director of the FBI.

Andrew, welcome back.

Let's start here with this reporting from Shimon of Malik Faisal Akram, who was investigated in 2020. He was on this subject of interest list for a short period of time but MI5 determined that he was not a threat.

There would have been no reason to contact U.S. investigators or anyone else after they deemed he was a threat, no period when they were investigating them that they would have told the U.S.?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It sounds like, from what little we know at this point, Victor, it sounds like the answer to that question is, no. So, first, I should tell you, as a long-time counterterrorism investigator and leader in the FBI, every counterterrorism professional's worst nightmare is finding out after there's been an attack or attempted attack that the person involved was somebody who was known to you at some point.


And it looks like the Brits are in that unfortunate position right now. Nevertheless, if they ran some sort of a limited investigation, the conclusion of which they determined the guy was not a threat, that is typically not the sort of information that is shared with foreign partners, simply because in an effort to protect the privacy of someone who has not been deemed to have done anything wrong, you don't share that kind of information.


CAMEROTA: Andy, I was so intrigued to hear about how the hostages survived. And so, one of the things -- I mean, they relied, they say, on their training, that they had gotten, and one of the things that they did was they made a pact that none of them was going to individually try to escape. They were going to stick together and when they got an opening, they were going to try to go for it.

And at one point, 11 hours into this, the gunman told them to kneel down, and one of the hostages, one of the congregants, said, no, and stood up and looked him right in the eye and what we have learned -- I remember Rabbi Myers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh also having recently had this kind of active shooter training right before that horrible event happened.

And so, it's like, now it's up to congregants. Now, it's up to the hostages. Law enforcement can never make it there in time, and the idea that they are supposed to run, hide, and fight. I just think that's really interesting.

MCCABE: You know, it is, Alisyn, and you have hit it right at the heart of the matter. The brilliance of that training is its simplicity, right? It enables law enforcement not just FBI but DHS, local law enforcement, to get in front of average, everyday people and get them to think about these things in a very simple way, primarily to organize your thoughts when you're in that moment.

So instead of just panicking, you're thinking about things like, how close am I to the nearest doorway? Or what piece of furniture is in between me and the attacker? You're thinking about communicating with your fellow hostages to try to organize some sort of activity.

And finally, it also gets you to embrace this idea that at some point, you may need to fight for your life. And God willing, none of us ever experience that, but if we do, having already gone through the training and thought about that, you might have a better opportunity to recognize that that moment is upon you, and when that happens, you cannot give in. You have to fight for your life.

CAMEROTA: I mean, they definitely credit this training with saving their life.

MCCABE: That's right.

CAMEROTA: Andrew McCabe, thank you.

MCCABE: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Okay, within hours from now, a giant asteroid will pass by Earth. We'll tell you the path, how close it is right now.

BLACKWELL: You just said that so casually. Giant asteroid, passing by.

CAMEROTA: Yeah, we'll tell you if you need to panic when we come back.

BLACKWELL: All right.



BLACKWELL: An asteroid that is more than twice the size of the Empire State Building will fly by Earth today.


BLACKWELL: You're just not impressed by this at all.

CAMEROTA: Well, I don't know if I should start panicking yet. We'll get to that.

BLACKWELL: All right. Here's the rest.

According to NASA, this will be the closest that the asteroid will come to earth for the next 200 years. How about that?

CAMEROTA: That is impressive.


CAMEROTA: CNN space and defense correspondent, Kristin Fisher, joins us now.

Kristin, Victor and I are wondering, is now a good time to start panicking?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: I loved the tease going into this segment. We'll let you know if you need to panic after the break. That was good. The answer is no, we do not need to panic about this asteroid.

This asteroid is going to get in about two hours exactly, the closest that it's going to get to earth for about 200 years, and going to get about 1.2 million miles away from earth, which sounds like a lot, but it's close enough that NASA has categorized it as a potentially hazardous asteroid.

And the reason for that, in addition to the orbit is also the fact that this is a pretty decent sized asteroid, about twice the size of the tallest building in the world, about four times the side of the empire state building and so you can imagine that this would do some serious damage if it were to actually hit Planet Earth. But this is an asteroid that astronomers have been tracking for decades.

What we really need to panic about, Victor and Alisyn, and not panic but think about and keep on our radar, which NASA is doing is the potential for undetected asteroids to threaten the planet and that actually happened two years ago. An asteroid, a large asteroid came within just about 40,000 miles of the planet and no one knew about it until about 24 hours before.

So that's where -- that's what really keeps some folks at NASA and astronomers up at night -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, 1.2 million miles on this one, we're good. We're good. FISHER: We're good, we're good.

BLACKWELL: Kristen Fisher, thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK. Listen to this, AT&T and Verizon temporarily delaying their 5G rollout after major U.S. airlines warning it would cause catastrophic disruptions. Some international airlines have suspended some U.S. flights and President Biden just weighed in on all of this. We'll tell you what's next with this.



CAMEROTA: More celebrities are joining the Democrats' fight to pass voting rights legislation. Five figures from the sports world who all have connections to West Virginia penned a letter to Senator Joe Manchin asking him to, quote, protect both the rights of voters and the integrity of outcomes in all federal elections.

CAMEROTA: And music icon Stevie Wonder posted this message on his YouTube channel for Senator Manchin.