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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

COVID Cases in the U.S. Plummet As Vaccinations Climb Above 1 Million Per Day; Taiwan Performs Rare Show of Force with Military Parade; Southwest Airlines Cancels Over 1k Flights on Sunday. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired October 11, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Good morning, everyone, it is Monday, October 11th, it's 5:00 a.m. here in New York, thanks so much for joining us for a special holiday edition of EARLY START, I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: And I'm Christine Romans. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. And we begin with coronavirus and finally some encouraging news over the holiday weekend. The latest CDC report shows more than 1.1 million vaccine doses delivered. That brings the seven-day average above 1 million shots in arms per day, following a long slump. The result has been this steep drop in the rate of U.S. cases. Now, this is the nationwide average, but there are exceptions, of course. You can see in five states case rates are climbing by at least 10 percent. More now from CNN's Polo Sandoval.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Christine and Laura, good morning to you. So, big picture, COVID rates are on the decline across most of the country. Forty five states according to Johns Hopkins University which tracks these numbers saw cases either decline or remain relatively steady over the weekend.

Nationally, the U.S. seeing about 95,000 new infections a day, believe it or not, that's actually pretty good considering that there had been more than two months since that number had dipped below 100,000. Dr. Anthony Fauci speaking over the weekend said that we are certainly on the right path here, but that number of infections is still too high in the number of vaccinated Americans is still not high enough. So, he's warning against declaring a premature victory. Take a listen.


ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We still have around 68 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated that have not yet gotten vaccinated, and even those who have been vaccinated, I mean, you want to look forward to holiday seasons and spending time with your family and doing those sorts of things. But don't just throw your hands up and say it's all over.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANDOVAL: By now, roughly, three and four eligible Americans have received at least one shot, Pfizer continuing its efforts to secure emergency use authorization for its vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 years old, meaning at this point, for parents of those children, they're basically stuck in a waiting game as the CDC advisory vaccination panel not expected to meet until at least early November.

JARRETT: Polo Sandoval, thank you so much for that. Let's dig a little deeper on all things COVID and bring in public health physician Dr. Chris Pernell; she's a fellow of the American College of Preventative Medicine. Dr. Pernell, so nice to see you.

ROMANS: Good morning.

JARRETT: Nice to see you this Monday, and it is nice to have you on for some good news for a change. Hospitalizations, deaths, new cases all down. But we've been here before, we've felt optimistic before. What's your level of comfort in getting together with friends and family as we head into some of these colder months, I think about kids going trick-or-treating coming up later this month Thanksgiving. Where is your head in all of this?

CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Good morning. So, this is what I tell family and this is what I tell friends. Think about who's going to be gathering. Where you're going to be gathering and just how long you're going to be together. And let me help everyone understand what that means. If you're all from the same household, you're all vaccinated or you have a low risk of having to bear complications from coronavirus, get together, enjoy one another. If it's a couple of different households, make sure that the adults and the eligible children are vaccinated.

Open windows to increase ventilation, otherwise, if you are thinking about mixing multiple households, very large gatherings, I think we still need to put the pause on those types of activities.

ROMANS: Very good advice. You know, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says every household should also have tests at home. That's part of this multi-layered mitigation. Let's listen and then we'll talk about it on the other side.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER U.S. FDA COMMISSIONER: I think every household should have a supply of at-home tests, that's what they're doing in the U.K., and for people who are priced out of the market, these tests are not cheap. I think the government could be doing a lot more to subsidize the availability of those tests, perhaps distributing them for example, in the Medicaid program. It looks to be what the Biden administration is aiming to do. I think when you're gathering around the holidays, you have to assess the circumstances. If you have younger kids who are unvaccinated with older relatives who are vaccinated, but still could be vulnerable from a breakthrough infection, using testing to try to protect that setting, I think makes a lot of sense.


ROMANS: Doctor, your thoughts on that?

PERNELL: I agree. Look, we can't completely vaccinate ourselves out of this pandemic. Vaccinations are important, but we have to have that multi-layered strategy. And I've been saying since President Biden gave his recent announcement around the mandates for employers that we should go a step further and deliver rapid tests to every home. Dr. Gottlieb is talking about rapid tests at least in the Medicaid population.


But I say, let's be as aggressive in this public health measure as possible, make these tests available, make them accessible and make them cheap and affordable. This way families can say, do I have someone who's symptomatic? Those tests are great in those instances.

JARRETT: Doctor, a lot of parents out there obviously hoping that the FDA approves Pfizer's vaccine for kids 5 to 11, I'm waiting for the 2- year-olds. But unlike a lot of other vaccines that we think about kids getting from birth, right? These kids -- especially think about like a 10-year-old who's sort of with it, they know all the misinformation. They see all the fights on TV over masks and vaccines. So, if you're a parent, how do you talk to your child about why they should get their shot?

PERNELL: Just be honest. Look, my youngest niece, she wrote a letter to the world, and she's always like, can you help me get my letter out, expressing how she wishes she could be vaccinated. Yes, she has an aunt who believes in vaccines, but she wishes she could be vaccinated. And the more that we have these regular, plain spoken conversations with our children, about what the risks are and about how we all have a role to play. This is a good way to show their service, this is their way to show empathy, this is their way to see science in action.

And yes, there will be a moment of discomfort, but the long-term payout is worth that momentary lapse --

JARRETT: Yes, I get the sense kids want this shot. I get the sense that kids --

ROMANS: Yes --

JARRETT: Actually are better about this than adults.

ROMANS: The trickier conversation is making sure that parents are --


ROMANS: Because we know --


ROMANS: That some of the polling numbers of parents and whether they're going to get that shot --

JARRETT: It's not good --

ROMANS: It's not as high as I think we'd all like. Dr. Chris Pernell; public health physician, thank you so much, nice to see you this morning.

JARRETT: Thanks, doctor.

ROMANS: Right, Allen West too is running for governor of Texas is in the hospital battling COVID-19. The former Florida congressman announcing on Facebook that he has pneumonia, he says he and his wife Angela who tested positive for the virus received monoclonal antibody infusion therapy at a Dallas emergency room. West is unvaccinated and was transferred to a hospital in Plano for treatment. His wife who was vaccinated was sent home to recover. West says in a post, he is now even more dedicated to fighting against vaccine mandates. He says he's taking hydroxychloroquine and invermectin, two drugs health officials say should not be used to treat COVID. The latter is a, you know, large animal dewormer.

JARRETT: And overnight, a strict lockdown in Australia's biggest city was partially lifted after 100 days, they're calling it freedom day in Sydney. All of Australia has been closed off essentially from the rest of the world during this pandemic. Now, the strategy in Sydney is to live with COVID. Angus Watson is in Sydney this morning for us. Angus, good morning. So, what's this partial lifting of the lockdown actually going to look like in practice?

ANGUS WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There was joy, relief, and yes, some apprehension today in city as the city exited a 106-day lockdown. People told that they're now allowed to visit family and friends at their homes in small numbers. They're allowed to go out to a restaurant for a meal or to the gym or to a hairdresser. Really for the first time since June, since the outbreak of the Delta variant started with just one case imported internationally. Some months later, that's now over 60,000 cases and over 300 deaths. So, that's gives a sense of just how virulent that Delta variant of the coronavirus is.

But as those cases have built, so has vaccination rates in Sydney and in Australia. Now, there are over 70 percent of adults fully vaccinated here in the city giving authorities the confidence to open back up again. As you mentioned this, Australia has been closed off to the rest of the world, and Australian states have also been closed off to one another. There are places where COVID is in the community like here in Sydney, in the capital of Australia, Canberra and in Melbourne. There are also cities and states around the country where there are no COVID. So, the next step in on the road outside of COVID will be for cities like Sydney to be caught up with the rest of the country, bring it whole again.

JARRETT: All right, Angus Watson, thank you so much for that update.

ROMANS: All right, COVID broke the American jobs market and fixing it won't be quick or simple. The latest evidence, hiring slowed in September, a setback as the Delta variant raged through the American economy, 194,000 jobs were added back last month, well below the very strong hiring -- you can see there earlier in the Summer. The economy is still down 5 million jobs since the pandemic began. At this pace, it would take more than 2 years to recover all the jobs lost. Now, the issue isn't companies aren't hiring, many report they would hire but they can't find workers.

And some though, after beefed unemployment benefits expired in September, people would rush back into the jobs market, that has not happened. Instead, Friday's report is more evidence jobless benefits didn't contribute all that much to the country's labor shortage or at least isn't the primary factors.


There are other factors including child care issues, health concerns and really a re-evaluation of life goals of workers and priorities that's all playing major roles in people -- keeping people at home. In a census survey, nearly 5 million people said they were not working because they're taking care of kids, 3 million said they're concerned about getting the virus or spreading the virus. COVID has completely changed how people think about their family, their safety and their job, and it's a really challenging moment I think. I also think COVID has broken kind of the statistics we use --


ROMANS: To measure the labor market, and we just need to be patient, this --

JARRETT: Well, and it just shows you the reasons that people are making their life decisions are complicated --

ROMANS: Absolutely --

JARRETT: It was never going to be just about unemployment benefits, but now the numbers actually very real.

ROMANS: And it's not necessarily just about -- I mean, wages are rising, don't get me wrong, but in some cases, it's not just about another dollar or $2 an hour --


ROMANS: It's about a much bigger global --


ROMANS: Picture at home.

JARRETT: Yes, all right, still ahead for you, a warning to China. After more than a 100 fighter jets flew into Taiwan's air defense zone. Now President Biden must decide what to do if Beijing continues to test him.


JARRETT: Welcome back. President Biden is tested here as the Chinese military is beefing up its activity around Taiwan rising to unprecedented levels. Chinese war planes breached Taiwan's air defense zone three times on Sunday alone. CNN's Will Ripley live in Taipei, Taiwan. It was the national day for Taiwan yesterday. So the timing here is very symbolic and important.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is. And it was the most militaristic national day parade that Taiwan has had in recent memory. You had for the first time that we know of, missiles rolling in front of the presidential palace, and a lot of the military hardware on display was made in the U.S.A. They had F-16s, they had, you know, missiles that were manufactured or patriot missiles from the U.S.

Taiwan spent $5 billion last year alone on American weapons. Those weapons sales started really increasing during the Trump years. But President Biden is green-lighting new weapons deals as well as part of this push, you know, that unites really Democrats and Republicans right now in Washington to defend Taiwan, to support Taiwan. There are very few issues that have bipartisan support, but Taiwan is one of them, basically because there's so much animosity against mainland China.

But the real test for President Biden is, is he giving Taiwan so much, opening doors that they have to sort of walk through because of their relationship with the U.S that could potentially put this island in a very dangerous position with the mainland. You see a direct correlation in some instances between what's happening in the United States and what's happening in the skies, in the seas near Taiwan, including as you said, first five days of October, 150 war planes from China entering this island's air defense identification zone.

Some analysts are fearful that if the United States goes too far and Beijing somehow thinks that Taiwan is going to be motivated to declare a formal independence, that, that could be what pushes China over the edge to fulfill that statement that they've made for so many decades that they're not ruling out, taking back Taiwan by force if necessary.

ROMANS: So, why now? The Chinese, why now, for 70-some years, you know, this has been a sort of a democratically self-governed island. Why is China making these moves now?

RIPLEY: You have a progressive president, President Tsai Ing-wen who is not acknowledging things that previous governments did, like the 1992 consensus. You have a view from the Beijing side that this -- that the leaders here in Taiwan, they have the support of young people, they have certainly after what happened in Hong Kong, that's what helped President Tsai Ing-wen re-election because she promised them that Taiwan would not become the next Hong Kong. And you know how public opinion polls that are, you know, overwhelmingly against being absorbed by the mainland.

It's a little more divided when you talk about an economic term. So, China senses this, they always have viewed Taiwan as an eventuality. Like eventually, they will be re-united with the mainland. And President Xi is emboldened, and he has a powerful military he might decide that this will be the crowning jewel on his terms.

ROMANS: All right, Will Ripley, thank you so much for that. Nice to see you this morning, Will. Thanks.

JARRETT: This is going to be a real decision point, I think this is shaping up to be pretty serious --

ROMANS: This is a challenge.


ROMANS: This is a foreign policy challenge for this White House. No question.

JARRETT: All right, coming up, thousands of Southwest flights canceled leaving passengers hopeless and crews stranded.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were no other flights available at all. I just began to cry. I was just devastated.


JARRETT: An update on the unprecedented delays this weekend. That's next.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no explanation for this problem. So I suspect that Southwest isn't being totally honest with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Literally couldn't sleep last night really just because we didn't know what was going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They said they're looking through and there's just nothing, for like the next few days.


JARRETT: Southwest passengers stranded across the country for the fourth straight day after the airline canceled more than a thousand flights on Sunday. Southwest is blaming air traffic control problems, limited staffing in Florida and bad weather. But the FAA says there have been no air traffic-related cancellations since Friday. CNN's Pete Muntean is at Reagan National Airport this morning for us. Pete, good morning. Southwest announced a vaccine mandate for its employees last week and that's fueling some speculation that all these weekend delays have maybe caused by a pilot walk out. Is there any truth to that? PETE MUNTEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's so interesting here is that Southwest Airlines Pilot Union put out a statement late last night saying there were no official or unofficial job actions over the weekend, which really debunks all these rumors that have been flying around online that pilots may have walked off the job because of Southwest's recently announced vaccine mandates. You know, all of these problems really started to snowball early this weekend, 800 cancellations on Saturday, 1,100 flight cancellations on Sunday, more than a quarter of Southwest total schedule for the day.

So far, we've seen about 320 cancellations for today. So, this is really not over just yet.


We know that Southwest pinned all of this on issues on Friday, air traffic control and weather issues. But as you mentioned, the FAA issued a rare statement saying that those were not problems on Saturday and Sunday. So this really caused a ripple effect according to Southwest in this memo that I received in that they told employees that this really put planes and people out of position. In fact, some other flight crews were left without hotel rooms. The bottom line here is that thousands, if not tens of thousands of passengers were stranded in long lines at airports across the country.

You know, it's also so interesting here, is that this ripple effect was also maybe a bit compounded by the pandemic. The airline is a lot smaller than it was before the pandemic, it's been trying to pack as many people as possible on fewer planes, and that makes it harder for the airline to recover when it's in situations like this. Planes and people left out at far places that makes it hard to return things to normal. It's not like flipping off a switch, they have to unplug it and plug it back in again and that takes some time.

JARRETT: Unplug it and plug it back in again is always my first approach. All right, Pete Muntean, thank you so much.

ROMANS: All right, powerful storms swept through Texas and Oklahoma overnight and a possible tornado near Tulsa left some damage buildings like this gas station and a middle school. We'll get a better idea of the scope and the damage in the region when the sun comes up. But for now, we have meteorologist Tyler Mauldin to join us live to tell us what happened overnight. Hi there.

TYLER MAULDIN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Christine, nearly a dozen tornadoes reported with the storm system. In terms of the wind, well, we had reports of hurricane force winds in some parts of the Central Plains. The system is moving out of the Central Plains now, it's heading for the Midwest and the Great Lakes. If you live anywhere from Illinois all the way into Michigan, have a heads up because you are under a level 2 out of 5 risk for severe weather today. Then we hit repeat on Tuesday with the severe weather in the Central Plains. Already, a level 3 out of 5 threat here specifically for Kansas and Oklahoma.

So, plenty of room for the storm prediction center within the next 24 to 36 hours to upgrade this risk to a level 4 or a level 5 large hail, damaging wind and even some yes, some tornadoes yet again in that part of the country. The reason being, is there's a developing storm maker out west. And this is actually the first big snow maker out west where we could see up to 12 inches of snowfall in the Intermountain West, and in some parts, more than 2 feet of snow in the northern Rockies, that's bringing down some colder air, clashing with the warmer air across the East Coast as it's expected over the next couple of days, Christine, and that's how you spell a severe weather outbreak.

ROMANS: All right, Tyler, thank you so much for that.


JARRETT: All right, he's back or maybe he never left. Donald Trump on stage in Iowa saying the quiet part out loud.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mitch McConnell didn't have the courage to challenge the election.


JARRETT: The former president's grievance with the Senate Minority leader. That's next.