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Erin Burnett Outfront
Biden Doubles Down On Test Shortage: "Don't Think It's A Failure"; Biden: Recommendation I've Gotten Is It's "Not Necessary" To Require Vaccination For Domestic Air Travel; Jan 6 Panel Looks To Interview Top Trump Ally Jim Jordan; Jury In Trial Of Ex-Officer Kim Potter Concludes 3rd Day And 24 Total Hours Of Deliberations Without A Verdict; COVID Hospitalizations In The U.S. Rise To Nearly 70,000; Election Officials: Texas Attorney General Tried To Indict Me. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired December 22, 2021 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WOLFBLITZER. You can tweet the show @CNNSITROOM. SITUATION ROOM also available on podcast, look for us at cnn.com/audio or wherever you get your podcasts. Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, President Biden on the defensive and pushing back against criticism that his administration was caught off guard by the Omicron variant.
Plus, the January 6 Committee wants to speak to Congressman Jim Jordan, a Trump ally who says he spoke to the former president multiple times on the day of the insurrection. Will he cooperate?
And a Texas election official claims the State's Republican Attorney General threatened and even tried to indict her over the handling of the state's free and fair 2020 election. That official is my guest. Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett OUTFRONT tonight we have breaking news.
President Biden tonight defending his administration's response to the surge in cases from Omicron and the testing shortage seen across the country. In a new interview with ABC News, the President saying when asked - saying this when asked if the long lines and lack of testing is a failure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I don't think it's a failure. I think it's - you could argue that we should have known a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago - I've ordered half a billion of the pills, 500 million pills. Excuse me, 500 million test kits that are going to be available to be sent to every home in America if anybody wants them. But the answer is yes, I wish I had thought about ordering half a billion pills two months ago, before COVID hit here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: President Biden misspeaking there when he was talking about tests, not pills. It comes as we have confirmed that omachron is everywhere South Dakota, the 50th state to confirm a case of the strain. It was just three weeks ago that the first case of Omicron was detected in the U.S. Now the CDC says it accounts for 90 percent of all cases in parts of the country.
For the fifth time in a week, New York State breaking its own record of infections, nearly 60 percent of them found in New York City. Out west in California, health care workers are being told today, they have until February 1st to get the additional shot as concerns are growing there of staffing shortages.
But there are some signs of hope tonight. Today, the FDA authorizing the first oral antiviral pill to treat COVID Pfizer says it reduces the risk of hospitalization and death by nearly 90 percent if taken within the first five days of symptoms. The U.S. government is ordering enough pills for 10 million Americans. But it will take some time. Here's what the CEO of Pfizer recently told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERT BOURLA, CEO, PFIZER: We will be having quantities of this medicine available immediately.
Now, the quantities will be in the tens of thousands immediately. In January, it will go to hundreds of thousands. And then February, March, we go to millions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Also experts in South Africa where Omicron was first identified are announcing that they are past the peak of the Omicron outbreak which started a month ago there. So this as two new studies add to the growing evidence that suggest Omicron may cause less severe disease than the Delta variant before it. Amara Walker is OUTFRONT to start us off tonight. Amara, so there are glimmers of hope but a lot of concerning trends right now here in the U.S.
AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Kate. And his anti-viral pill from Pfizer could really bring down the COVID-19 hospitalization rate, as you mentioned. It's supposed to be taken at home by a person affected with COVID before they get sick enough to be hospitalized from the disease.
But health officials are stressing that this anti-viral should not be a substitute to getting vaccinated.
WALKER (voice over): Today, the FDA authorizing the first pill to treat COVID-19. Paxlovid made by Pfizer will be available by prescription for adults and high risk individuals aged 12 or older who have mild to moderate symptoms, but a high risk of hospitalization or death. Pfizer CEO says they stand ready to begin delivery in the U.S. immediately.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: As quickly as Pfizer gets the pills manufactured and delivered, we will immediately provide them to states and jurisdictions for distribution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER (voice over): The long testing lines across the country have already begun amidst the holiday rush. In Atlanta, frustrations are running high.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been here like an hour and a half, the line was stretched all the way back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're on almost hour three.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) ...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Less than a mile, but hour three.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crazy busy, it's like it was back in January, February timeframe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER (voice over): Some taking precautions as the highly contagious Omicron variant has overtaken Delta as the dominant strain in just a matter of weeks. Omicron has now been identified in every U.S. state, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. PETER DROBAC, INFECTIOUS DISEASE AND GLOBAL HEALTH EXPERT, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD: There are a lot of reasons to be concerned. What we know for sure about this variant is that it's incredibly transmissible. Each infected person infects on average five other people, which is much more than with previous variants.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER (voice over): For those gathering during the holidays, the CDC Director stressing that all guests be vaccinated and or boosted and exercise caution in the days before they get together.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I want to remind folks that so much about the safety of your gathering has less to do with the plane ride or the train ride that you're going to do to get there and very much to do with the behaviors that you have in the week prior to your gathering.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER (voice over): Case rates in the U.S. are back to level seen in the middle of the Delta surge. The highest they've been in three months. ICU beds are about 76 percent full and more than one in five are COVID-19 patients.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. RICHINA BICETTE-MCCAIN, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: I'm pretty worried that the surge that we're going to see in the coming weeks is going to be worse than the surge that we saw last winter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER (voice over): Meanwhile, South Africa has passed the peak of its Omicron outbreak, according to one of the country's top scientific researchers. With a rise in breakthrough cases, the CDC is actively examining shortening the 10-day quarantine for the vaccinated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If you do have someone who's infected rather than keeping them out for seven to 10 days, if they are without symptoms, put an N95 mask on them. Make sure they have the proper PPE and they might be able to get back to work sooner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER (on camera): Now, Kate, we are at a drive up testing site in the part of Northeast Atlanta where the employees here just tested their last customer for the day about 15 minutes ago. And I'm going to tell you, people were getting quite impatient, understandably because some had been waiting in line up to three and a half hours to get tested.
And this is likely just the beginning because demand is expected to skyrocket for these COVID-19 tests, thanks to Omicron being extremely contagious, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Amara, thank you so much for that.
OUTFRONT with me now is Dr. Jonathan Reiner, former Medical Adviser to the George W. Bush White House and Dr. Eric Topol, the Founder and Director of Scripps Research Translational Institute, Professor in Molecular Medicine.
Dr. Topol, the Biden administration is now starting to roll out its new strategy to tackle this surge. And President Biden tonight, he did push back against criticisms that they were caught flat footed. Let me play more of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: The Vice President said in recent days that you didn't see Delta coming, you didn't see Omicron coming, how did you get it wrong?
BIDEN: How did we get it wrong? Nobody saw it coming. Nobody in the whole world who saw it coming.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: On their strategy now, you've said that it's a far cry from what they should be doing and should have announced. What do you think why do you think this response has been inadequate?
DR. ERIC TOPOL, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, SCRIPPS RESEARCH: Well, good to be with you, Kate. It's unfortunate we all, in the science community, knew that the virus would continue to evolve. We didn't know exactly it would be hyper mutated like Omicron. But we certainly knew there was going to be trouble lying ahead.
The problem with the administration is it's always been reactive. So here we have this big Omicron spread, we're in the second surge of Delta and now announcing new plans. But they, unfortunately, fall short of what they could be. That is the rapid test that we've been waiting on for well over a year and also, of course, the pill. The pill today being cleared, but we don't have a very good supply for some time to come.
BOLDUAN: Yes. Dr. Reiner, the President was also asked this evening by ABC News about the possibility of requiring vaccinations to get on domestic flights, to fly within the United States as a way to ensure safety, better ensure safety and also, quite frankly, to probably convince more people to get vaccinated. Let me play that for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)'
MUIR: Have you considered requiring passengers in this country to be vaccinated to get on flights?
BIDEN: It's been considered, but the recommendation I've gotten is not necessary.
MUIR: Even with Omicron?
BIDEN: Even with Omicron. That's the recommendation I got so far from the team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Dr. Reiner, what do you think of that?
JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Hi, Kate. First of all, it's an honor to be on tonight with Dr. Topol, a cardiologist who I have admired for 30 years.
I think the President is wrong. First of all, we require international passengers to travel, who are traveling to the United States to be vaccinated. It's completely mysterious to me why people traveling within the United States, domestic passengers, should not also need to be vaccinated.
This is a highly transmissible virus and now we are allowing a virus basically to freely fly around the United States. This is a politically based decision, not a science based decision. The other benefit, frankly, of requiring people to be vaccinated to fly in the United States is that it will help to convince the roughly 30 percent of adults who remain unvaccinated to finally get vaccinated.
The same way that requirements in New York to enter restaurants, movie theaters and theaters, really to be anywhere in public to be vaccinated have encouraged New Yorkers to get vaccinated and corporate vaccine requirements have encouraged employees to get vaccinated. It's another tool in our toolbox and this administration has made a massive mistake by not requiring vaccination for domestic air travel.
BOLDUAN: And I know Dr. Topol that you've been looking into this leaning into this and talking about this as well.
TOPOL: Yes. Dr. Reiner is spot on about that these. That's one of the many things that we could be doing to really change the face of the pandemic in the U.S. But we aren't seeing these bold and aggressive actions. But there are many points of good news, Kate.
I mean, this pill is going to be the most important thing that's happened since vaccines in terms of being able to easily administer it, not dependent on our immune system. It's safe. It's safe as placebo in two trials and has a marked effect on reducing the viral load in a person with COVID by at least 10 fold very quickly.
So that's a whole new tool to add to our ability to fight the virus. And also the other big thing today is we're learning Scotland, England, Denmark and South Africa all showing at least 40 percent to 70 percent reduced hospitalizations from Omicron, adjusting for all the things that we know might correlate. So these are good things even with the problems that Dr. Reiner and I are citing.
BOLDUAN: Dr. Reiner, we're talking about the pill, the antiviral that Dr. Topol's talking about. The key is to take this pill early after testing positive, within five days, there's still a remarkable reduction in risk of hospitalization and death, 90 percent. But you have to take it before you're sick enough to need the hospital, which means there needs to be access to it relatively quickly upon testing positive.
There have been - look, you've talked about the missteps we've seen with the booster campaign, testing, for example. Are you concerned that the country may face similar issues with access to this pill?
REINER: Well, first of all, we have to understand that although this pill from Pfizer is remarkably effective, when given within five days, it has almost a 90 percent reduction in hospitalization or death. You have to have access to it. So Pfizer has promised about 180,000 doses of - courses of this pill by the beginning of January, which sounds fabulous. Except that's the same number of cases that the United States had yesterday 180,000 cases.
And if only 10 percent of people basically would need this pill, only 10 percent of cases, you can see how we would exhaust that initial tranche of 180,000 doses very rapidly. The other piece of the puzzle is that people have to be tested. You have to have a positive test to take this pill and you have to have access to test.
And we see we're not going to have dissemination of rapid test to homes in the United States until probably the middle of January, at best. So there are a lot of hurdles to get over. This pill is a very important tool in our toolbox and when we have large stocks of this and pharmacies, it'll be fabulous. People will be able to get a prescription from their physician or provider. Go to the pharmacy, take a five-day course of this and largely, for most people, prevent hospitalization.
But we need to get there. We need more testing and then also we need to have strategies in place that prevent people from hoarding this pill, from people from acquiring this therapy and just sort of stocking it on the shelf. So there really needs to be safeguards in place to prevent people from prescribing this for people who are well and not yet in need of it.
BOLDUAN: Again, glimmers of hope but still so far from being there quite yet.
BOLDUAN: It's really great to have you both. Thank you.
TOPOL: Thank you.
REINER: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT for us next, the January 6 Committee targeting a top Trump ally, Congressman Jim Jordan. But will he reveal any details of his conversations with Donald Trump from the day of the interaction?
Plus, the jury weighing Kim Potter's fate is still at it as deliberation stretch into another day. What it could mean for the former officer?
And incredible body camera video tonight of the moment officers find and rescue two children whose home was destroyed in that deadly tornado outbreak.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She okay?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: New tonight, the January 6 Select Committee requesting a second sitting member of Congress to come speak to investigators. This time, Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, one of former president from staunchest allies. Someone who has admitted to talking to Trump multiple times on January 6th.
And just last week, the Committee revealed that text messages it obtained from former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows include a text from Jordan detailing a way to overturn the election just a day before the insurrection. Congressman Scott Perry, the other Republican lawmaker asked to appear before the Committee, he rejected that request just yesterday. Jessica Schneider is OUTFRONT for us now. Jessica, what more are you learning about this request for Jim Jordan?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, the Committee is actually telling Congressman Jordan in this letter, they know he spoke with Trump at least once if not multiple times they say on January 6. So now they want him to sit for a voluntary interview as soon as January 3rd. But from what we've seen here, it is highly unlikely that Congressman Jordan will cooperate. He has already in the past warned that the Committee targeting GOP lawmakers in any capacity, he said it would be met with political retribution if Republicans retake the House after the midterms.
And then, of course, you referenced it. We saw Congressman Scott Perry, he lashed out at the Committee's legitimacy already this week and he rebuffed their request interview him.
So, so far tonight, no response from Jordan, but the Committee is really trying to throw his words back at him by writing him in this letter that Jordan said back in August that he had 'nothing to hide'.
But there is at least that one text message of note, Jordan forwarded a text to former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on January 5th, outlining this plan for VP Mike Pence. And here's exactly what it said Kate, "On January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence, as President of the Senate, should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all."
Of course, that was all part of the plot to get Pence to block certification, which he ultimately refused to do, Kate. But Jordan spokesperson has told us about that text. They say it was actually written by a former Defense Department Inspector General and that Jordan was just forwarding the text on to Meadows.
But, of course, it is clear, the Committee wants to talk about that text and they want to find out through Jordan what Trump was up to inside the White House on January 6th. It's interesting, Kate, because the Committee in this letter, they say they know that Trump was watching TV coverage of the capital attack from his private dining room next to the Oval Office that day. And they say even after the crowd dispersed that Trump was still trying to delay or impede the vote count.
So there's a lot this Committee wants to know. They're hoping they can do it through Congressman Jordan, Kate. Unlikely he'll sit down and we'll see if any subpoenas follow, Kate?
BOLDUAN: Jessica, thanks for laying it out for us. I really appreciate it.
For more on this, let me bring in right now, John Dean, Watergate whistleblower and former Nixon White House Counsel. It's good to see you, John.
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: So Jim Jordan who Kevin McCarthy had actually picked to put on this Select Committee to represent Republicans at the beginning, now he is becoming a central figure in this investigation. How important do you think his testimony could be to Committee's work?
DEAN: Well, I don't think it's vital testimony, as the letter shows. They have pretty good idea what happened. They'd like to hear it from him. I'm sure there's much, much more he could add to what they know. But we also know it's Jim Jordan.
Jim Jordan is a Trump acolyte. He is not going to do anything to upset his master. It's just that simple. So they're going to have trouble, I think they're going to have to use the subpoena, and it going to be tested.
BOLDUAN: One key question with Jordan, really, ever since January six has been what were his communications with Donald Trump on January 6th, because the question has become all the more interesting as Jordan himself has tripped over answering it multiple times. Let me play this for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I've talked to the president so many - I can't remember all the days I've talked to him. But I've certainly talked to the president.
I spoke with him that day after, I think after. I don't know if I spoke with him in the morning or not. I just don't know.
Of course, I talked to the president. I talked to him that day. I've been clear about that. I don't recall the number of times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: John, what do you do with that? DEAN: Well, that's not the normal Jordan answer. He's pretty crisp
and pretty clear on most of his answers. His mind is probably trying to calculate, well, what kind of exposure do I have at this stage in answering that question. And I think he does have exposure.
Because of the texts he forwarded the day before, I'll tell you if they ever start pursuing conspiracy charges, he walked right into a conspiracy to obstruct Congress, it was a seditious conspiracy, may well have been. So I think he knows he has exposure. And if he ever is in front of that Committee, he'll probably have to take the Fifth. That's probably another reason he doesn't want to go.
BOLDUAN: Yes. You can assume that. Look, Republican Congressman Scott Perry, he rejected this voluntary request as well outright kind of slamming the Committee. Obviously, Jordan is likely to follow suit in that. You've said they should compel him with a subpoena, but how big of a deal would this be? Because is there a risk at this point as we've kind of seen this trend of just person after person ally, after ally, defying subpoenas that it just doesn't have anything of the impact they wanted to at this point?
DEAN: Well, if the impact they want to get is the fact that the people who are associated with Trump won't cooperate. I think they're doing a good job of showing that and they're stacking them up one after another. If that ever comes to a showdown and Jordan would probably take this to court as others have, it's a different privilege this time that's in play.
It's called the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution provides members of Congress with a safe haven for anything they do as part of the legislative process.
Now, I don't think planning or assisting or asking to call off an insurrection is any way connected with the legislative process. But we don't know the outer reach of this privilege. It's one that's really had very little court tests, there's been maybe a dozen cases on it. So that's what he would rely on if push comes to shove and I don't think people really want to test that privilege too much.
BOLDUAN: We've definitely seen a lot of people really testing the outer bounds of this - of many privileges in recent months and years here in Washington. It's good to see you John, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
DEAN: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT for us next, the jury not finding it easy to reach a verdict in the trial of a former police officer who confused her taser and her gun. Deliberations on day three had just wrapped with no decision.
And doctors and nurses overwhelmed again as COVID numbers are trending in the wrong direction. I'm going to speak to two of them who were 'getting crushed' by the increase in cases. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BOLDUAN: Tonight, the jury in the trial of former officer Kim Potter ending day three of deliberations. Jurors have now spent 24 hours in that jury room and there is still no verdict. They are weighing whether Potter's -- Potter's fatal error amounts to a criminal act when she killed Daunte Wright saying she mistook her gun for her Taser.
Omar Jimenez is OUTFRONT for us now, live, from Minneapolis.
Omar, silence from the jury today after warning signs that they could be deadlocked. What is the latest?
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kate, so we are right -- or we ended the day, I should say, right at the 24-hour mark of deliberations, in total, over the past three days. And we got indications they may have had issues coming to a consensus based on at least one of the questions they asked the judge yesterday, which basically was what happens if we can't reach a consensus? And now, moving forward, we are running up right into Christmas Eve and Christmas is coming up very quickly on -- on Friday. And the judge has indicated that she would not hold these jurors over Christmas Eve and Christmas, and that if needed, we would start up again next week. So, you get the feeling that something has to give here.
Now, as you mentioned, what they are trying to decide on or the crux of it is whether Kim Potter was justified when she shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop back in April of this year. Potter has claimed she mistook her Taser for her gun before shooting Wright. Prosecutors have argued the mere fact that she says she meant to grab her Taser shows that she didn't even think this was a situation that required deadly force.
Her defense, though, has argued if Daunte Wright had just complied, none of this would have happened. But of course, the ultimate decision is going to be left up to the jury, who still, as I mentioned, over three days, 24 hours, have yet to come to a decision, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Omar, thank you for that.
OUTFRONT with me now for more on this is Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, former defense attorney and former mayor of Baltimore.
What is so fascinating is what Omar was laying out today is the silence. 24 hours ago, you and I were talking about the jury's questions to the judge and the possibility that they were deadlocked, and since, nothing. What do you take from that?
STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE, FORMER DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Kate, I take that they are doing their job. They heard from the judge that they are to do their best to reach a consensus. And they are taking that job seriously, and I applaud them. It -- it is certainly not easy. This is a very, very heavy decision that they have to make. And it is a tough call. And I am sure there are jurors -- as we know
from the question -- some of them are willing to give officer potter the benefit of the doubt and some of them are not. And we will see if it gets down to this horse trading that sometimes happens in a jury room.
BOLDUAN: Always wonder what more time in deliberations means for an eventual verdict. 24 hours now, third day of deliberations has just wrapped. Does that tell you anything about where this is headed?
RAWLINGS-BLAKE: I think it's headed towards a -- what some would call a compromise verdict. There are probably some jurors -- and we will not know until afterwards how many -- that feel that there was no possible way that she could actually confuse a gun with a Taser. And that she needs to held -- to be held to account for that egregious mistake, and I'm sure that there are some on the other side that are saying listen, they are the same shape.
They are the same -- you know, almost the same size. It was a chaotic -- a chaotic experience and this trained officer made a mistake, and I will not send her to jail for that. And -- and they're going back and forth and back and forth. And I -- I honestly feel that they will reach some sort of compromised verdict on lesser charges.
BOLDUAN: So interesting. So, the jury's sequestered. So, they're isolated and away from the public, as well as from their families and, of course, Christmas is Saturday. The judge says -- had said that they are not going to hold them over through, they will pick it back up next week.
But the timing -- the -- the pressure of the timing, knowing a holiday is coming, how does that impact a jury?
RAWLINGS-BLAKE: Even a weekend can -- the upcoming weekend can impact a jury, so I know with the holidays coming, these people are -- are just like us. You know, they want to get home with their families. They want to be able to prepare meals, wrap gifts, all of the things.
And with this trial hanging over their head, with this verdict hanging over their head, they are not going to be able to do it. That's why I really feel they are leaning towards, you know, trading in there, horse trading. And they'll come up with some agreement.
BOLDUAN: Interesting. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, great to see you again.
OUTFRONT for us next, 70,000 COVID hospitalizations and counting. Doctors and nurses overwhelmed. I am going to speak with two very worried healthcare workers who are on the front lines.
And a new tactic to threaten and intimidate in these days of election lies. The bogus lawsuit an official in Texas says it happened to her. She's my guest.
BOLDUAN: Tonight, nearly 70,000 people are in U.S. hospitals with COVID. That number is ticking upwards. As health -- health experts are warning that it's not spiking nationwide right now, but there could be a major surge coming. Doctors across the country are sounding the alarm about what they are up against, already, as they brace now for what's to come.
OUTFRONT with me now is Dr. Murtaza Akhter, an emergency room physician who's been treating COVID patients in hospitals across the country. And, Hannah Drummond, a nurse on the front lines in Asheville, North Carolina.
Thank you both for being here.
Dr. Akhter, you're currently in Miami-Dade County where hospitalizations have more than doubled in the last seven days.
Describe for me what you're seeing.
DR. MURTAZA AKHTER, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Well, Kate, it feels like deja vu and unfortunately might even be quite a bit worse this time, based on what we have seen in the Northeast. Just four days ago if you asked me, I would have said wow, we are actually doing okay, especially given the horrible surge we had this last summer that we talked about.
Now, just as of literally three days ago, it hit kind of like the flu hits or like COVID hits, all of the sudden and rapidly and intensely, getting a ton of patients coming into emergency department, a ton of symptoms.
And what's really upsetting is that we are just beginning of this. There is a lot more to go. People are going to be mingling during Christmas, especially in a place like Miami where the airports have been jam-packed and hospitalizations are going to surge even worse. So it's actually a pretty stressful scenario.
BOLDUAN: In four days. It's terrifying and remarkable.
Hanna, I understand at your hospital in North Carolina, you had as many as 60 patients at a time waiting for beds, waiting as long as 24 hours for one to open up sometimes. Can you describe the situation for me? How hard is this right now?
HANNAH DRUMMOND, REGISTERED NURSE, MISSION HOSPITAL IN ASHEVILLE, NC: It's incredibly difficult. Um, we even have patients sometimes waiting up to 48 hours. We typically have four beds that we're assigned to in the er that folks are moving in and out of. And even just yesterday, two of my beds for over half the shift were filled with critical patients, which typically, you know, that nurse would only have two patients in their assignment. And I had four with folks moving in and out all day long. And to have all these COVID cases coming in on top of our normal, you know, other emergencies, like heart attacks, strokes, all of that, um, it's -- it's pretty overwhelming.
BOLDUAN: Even describing it the way you are, and not experiencing myself, it sounds overwhelming. Like, I don't know how you keep your head above water in all the hours that you are trying to care for all these patients and give them adequate care and attention over and over, again.
Dr. Akhter, today, the mayor of Miami-Dade County says that Florida is also facing an urgent shortage in monoclonal antibody treatments. This comes as the FDA is authorizing this first pill -- antiviral pill -- to treat COVID. And I am sitting here wondering, we also know that omicron is like evades two of three of the monoclonal antibody treatments so you also got a problem there.
What do you need most right now?
AKHTER: Simple answer, people to be vaccinated. That is the best treatment out there. When the vaccine came out, the data were so amazing, it was almost hard to believe. It's still the best option out there. And now, the booster, for those of you who have been vaccinated.
Now, yeah. I think shortages monoclonal antibody, you basically can't find any in Miami now. In emergency department, I think I gave one of our last-three doses when I gave it a couple days ago. We are now officially out. We are trying to tell people to go to the county sites.
You have seen the news stories where they wait for hours and get to the front of the line and there is no monoclonal antibody left. And so, I think it's amazing timing that this was just approved. And the amazing thing is that it's not an infusion that you need to be monitored for repeatedly. It's almost like Tamiflu for people who get COVID and can take the pills early enough, it can dramatically reduce hospitalization.
So I am actually excited about that. I don't think I am known as an optimist, in general, on your show. But I think the data so far have been amazing. If we could get that to people, it could dramatically reduce hospitalizations.
But to say, oh, you know what? I will just get COVID and take the pill is like saying, eh, I will just get cancer and then get chemotherapy. Cancer sucks. You don't want to get it.
COVID sucks. You don't want to get it. Get vaccinated.
BOLDUAN: Definitely, one way to put it, Doctor.
You always cut -- you always cut to the chase. Hanna, I was just thinking about North Carolina. We are seeing COVID cases really starting to surge all over the country. But the spike we are seeing in New York City, right, it's kind of the canary in the coal mine of what's going to be happening with omicron as it washes over the rest of the country and I'm wondering with what you are already facing, how have you -- how do you mentally prepare for things to get even worse this winter?
DRUMMOND: To be perfectly frank, I can't spend a lot of time thinking about it because it's hard enough to go into work right now knowing that, you know, my hospital administration is not doing everything that they can to retain our staff that's in North Carolina working. So I just try to get through, honestly, each minute at a time in my shift. And not focus on the future too much because we are overwhelmed, as it is. And COVID's not even, you know, as bad as it was at our surge earlier-this year.
So I honestly don't have the capacity to think about it that much.
BOLDUAN: Dr. Akhter, how do you wrap your mind at this moment around where we are, what you have just said? I feel like this is a conversation you and I had a year ago. When we were just starting to -- to -- to speak in the midst of the -- what we -- was then the worst of the pandemic. How do you wrap your mind around this is where we are now two years in?
AKHTER: Honestly, there's a level of defeatism, unfortunately. I think we have been even saying that for a while now, where we are losing hope. And it's really unfortunate that we could have beaten it, and now consensus seems to be that we need to live with it.
Now there is optimism that in the virus's favor, if it's a milder variant, we don't know that for sure but if it really is milder, as Dr. Topol was saying earlier on your show, then it's possible that it becomes kind of like what the Spanish flu became, eventually, an endemic rather than a pandemic. But the flu stinks, too. I don't want to get the flu.
And so, in that situation now where it may become seasonal but until we get to that point, it is going to be really rough on hospitals and, yeah, personally, even if I feel normally, I was just telling somebody earlier today that every time I go to my dentist's office, he asks me what are you doing to your teeth? And turns out, the stress is so bad that I am grinding my teeth away.
And I feel I have actually gotten pretty lucky on this pandemic being able to work with the people I have been able to work with. I can only imagine what it is like for healthcare workers and everybody else across the country who just keep getting hit with this groundhog day and not in a good way.
So, I do think it is a level of defeatism. I hope we can turn the corner but I have been hoping for a year and a half now and we just haven't gotten there.
BOLDUAN: It makes me sick to my stomach because I am hearing from this, Dr. Akhter, in Miami now. I heard it from Hannah in Asheville, North Carolina. I've heard it from Dr. Zimmer in South Bend, Indiana, last night. It's just over and over and over.
Thank you, guys, very much for coming on. AKHTER: Thank you for having us.
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT for us next -- thank you, Hannah. OUTFRONT front for us next, a Texas election official with a warning tonight about a threat to America's democracy. She says the state's Republican attorney general tried to intimidate her after last year's election.
And witness the very moment a tiny baby was found in a bathtub, alive, surviving that massive tornado outbreak in Kentucky.
BOLDUAN: Tonight, a Texas county elections chief revealing the state's Republican attorney general tried to intimidate and threaten to such an extent, even tried indicting her over her handling of the 2020 election. The state AG, Ken Paxton, who himself remains under indictment for securities fraud and reportedly under a federal investigation over whistle-blower complaints, that same Ken Paxton has accused her of obstructing a poll watcher, a charge that was ultimately dismissed but which could have meant up to a year in prison.
That local election official is now speaking out, warning of the intimidation she and other election officials have faced over lies about election fraud, intimidation that threatens the next elections and poses dire consequences to American democracy.
OUTFRONT now is Travis County clerk, Dana DeBeauvoir, the Democratic elections chief targeted by Paxton.
Thank you for being here tonight.
Your story is really remarkable. This trumped-up charge was thrown out. But that's not without doing damage. Why do you think you were targeted?
DANA DEBEAUVOIR (D), COUNTY CLERK, TRAVIS COUNTY, TX: Well, I think there are several reasons. I think I made a good target because I fought back. I felt like it was more important to protect the election workers who were working the counting station to tally ballots, than it was to allow some out-of-control poll watchers to try to infect these innocent workers, and that's what seemed to be going on at the counting station when these folks came in.
Sadly, they refused to wear masks and here we were, in the middle of a pandemic stage five and they wanted to hover right on top of these workers. So, I prevented them from getting that close. And therein, was the subject of the dispute.
So, I entered into a conversation with the Republican Party and its poll watchers, and we agreed that the way we were going to do this was that people would be able to get closer, see whatever they wanted if they wore masks and observed basic science. And after a few meetings, we solved that problem and -- and so, the workers had access all the time.
Unfortunately, though, we ended up with some of our poll watchers who were -- who did not go along with that, who refused to wear masks and ultimately, there was a big kerfuffle in the middle of the counting station because these folks had to be escorted out. Now, the rest of us were happy with the outcome, with the agreement that we had between the workers and the poll watchers.
So, ultimately, there was no reason to pursue this any further. Nevertheless, Ken Paxton decided that he would single me out in order to make an example of what is probably one of the most liberal voting areas in Texas.
BOLDUAN: Well, and -- and again, to reinforce -- this was thrown out after, you know, tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees that you had to take on in the beginning by yourself. You know, I have to say, Dana, we reached out to the attorney general's office for comment. They responded with a statement saying, in part, quote, normal procedures were followed in the case at issue, and also adding this: local election officials can ensure fewer investigations in the future if they run their elections with transparency, security, and honesty and in accordance with state election laws.
Clearly, they're suggesting you did not do that. Though, again, the case was thrown out. What do you say to him?
DEBEAUVOIR: Well, it was first thrown out by the Supreme Court, and then it was thrown out by a grand jury. So, he's been twice defeated in his attempt to misportray this as a problem on our part.
It was quite the opposite. I was not obstructing poll watchers. They were, in fact, obstructing the work of trying to tally ballots and that is where the problem arose.
It was not unfair to allow these workers to come in and try to intimidate workers and this is what happened. One of the poll watchers even as she was leaving the polling station that night stopped by, took her mask off, threw it in the face of the receptionist who was at the exit point, and said, here, I've already had COVID.
So I'm -- I'm gifting you with my antibodies.
BOLDUAN: You know, and this gets to -- and this gets to the bigger issue that I wanted to ask you about. You know, you're retiring in January after 35 years, not related to this, important to say.
But the attorney general is a big supporter of Donald Trump and his lies. He's pushed -- he's pushed that and made that very clear when in terms of pushing election fraud.
But still, you know, in Texas, Texas lawmakers have passed laws already making it harder for people, like you to do your job. What are you afraid that this means for future elections? DEBEAUVOIR: It -- that -- that is the point. We -- what we have is a
situation where now this new law has made it easier for poll watchers to have what's called free movement in any of the places where voting is happening or tallying is happening. And yet, the election workers are denied the basic right for a safe workplace.
That's not okay and that's what we were trying to accomplish. And the local GOP here and I agreed on a way to do that. We didn't need the interference and the intimidation from the attorney general to disrupt that agreement.
What I hope for the future is that we will all focus on an equal level of concern about election workers so that we can continue to recruit good, civic-minded people who want to help with elections and we don't have this intimidation factor for people who are working inside the polling places.
Those are our guardians of democracy. Those are the people we need to treat better.
BOLDUAN: Well, that's yet to be seen how well that holds next time. Thank you very much for coming on. I appreciate your time.
OUTFRONT for us next, dramatic new video of a rescue of two little children after that deadly tornado outbreak.
BOLDUAN: Tonight, incredible video emerging from the rescue efforts after deadly tornados swept through Kentucky. One of the tornados tearing apart a home and throwing a bathtub -- throwing a bathtub with two infants inside. Their grandmother had put them inside the tub with a pillow, blanket, and bible.
And here is the moment two sheriff's deputies and neighbors found the first infant alive, still inside the tub.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 329, we got the fem -- I think a 15-month-old. Central, can you send us med center?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Try to get 'em to you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's okay.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go. Is she okay?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we got?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good there. No cuts on the leg.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Oh, my God is right. And there's more. A sibling, an infant, was pulled to safety right after that. The babies were reunited with their grandmother, amazing and
remarkable. And a reminder of what matters this season. We keep the people of Dawson Springs and so many of the other communities hit by these storms in our hearts this holiday.
Thank you all so much for being here.
"AC360" starts now.