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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Rising COVID And Flu Cases Spell Trouble For Healthcare Workers; Murder Plot Over Vaccine Mandate Foiled In Germany; Jaguars Fire Urban Meyer 13 Games Into 5-Year Deal. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 16, 2021 - 05:30   ET




LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good Thursday morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 30 minutes past the hour -- time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

A record-setting day of extreme weather. More hurricane-force wind gusts were reported across the U.S. Wednesday than any day in U.S. history. There were 20 tornado reports across Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska.

JARRETT: U.S. health officials are preparing for a trio of public health concerns this winter: more infections from the Omicron variant, surging Delta variant infections, and a slow but steady comeback of the flu. More on this in just a moment.

ROMANS: NFL coach Urban Meyer has been fired after a series of scandals, including reportedly kicking a former player. Meyer was with the Jacksonville Jaguars for less than a year. The team's offensive coordinator will serve as the interim head coach for the rest of the season.


ARBUEY WRIGHT, DAUNTE WRIGHT'S FATHER: I loved Daunte. He was loved.


WRIGHT: I miss home a lot -- every day.


JARRETT: That was Daunte Wright's father on the witness stand in the trial of former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter. Potter fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April. A policing expert testified Wednesday that Potter was not justified in using deadly force. Prosecutors are expected to rest their case today.

ROMANS: The Miami-Dade grand jury overseeing the Surfside condo collapse offered a slew of recommendations on how to prevent a similar disaster. Most notably, it recommended buildings be recertified 10 to 15 years after completion instead of 40.

JARRETT: The family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taking a remarkable stand. They want no celebration of the holiday bearing his name before the passage of voting rights legislation. President Biden and lawmakers are feeling pressure to act on these bills stalled in Congress. Yesterday, Biden called voting rights the single biggest domestic issue.

All right, there is a perfect storm brewing, as we've been discussing all morning, for America's healthcare workers: rising Omicron cases, Delta cases, and the not to be taken lightly flu. The three together have healthcare systems fearing that they won't have the resources to care for everyone.

Right now, Omicron accounts for just three percent of all U.S. COVID cases, but health officials tell CNN those numbers could start to double daily.

ROMANS: Wow. For now, Omicron doesn't appear as deadly as other variants but the speed of its spread is concerning.

It's time for three questions in three minutes. We're going to bring in Dr. Susannah Hills, pediatric airway surgeon at Columbia University Medical Center. So nice to see you.

I mean, COVID metrics, Doctor, are up across the board. Just the emails I get every day from the school --

JARRETT: From schools.

ROMANS: -- right. It used to be oh, we have a case in the high school, we have a case in the middle school. Now it's we have nine cases in the high school. You know, reminding everybody how to stay safe and stay home if you're not feeling well. Hospitalizations up 43 percent compared to last month.

What is the indicator you're looking for to see if we're in for a rough COVID winter here?

DR. SUSANNAH HILLS, PEDIATRIC AIRWAY SURGEON, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER (via Skype): Well, Christine, there are really three things that I'm looking for.

First of all, I'm looking for the infection rate. So, for example, here in New York City we're up 109 percent in COVID cases in the last two weeks. As you mentioned, cases across the United States have increased dramatically, so that's concerning.

The second thing I'm looking for is hospitalizations. What is the hospitalization rate? That, too, is up. We've been up 70 percent in our hospitalization rate here in New York since Thanksgiving. The U.S. is up 21 percent in hospitalization rates.

And then, the third thing I'm looking for is what's our capacity to manage these cases? What is the hospital capacity? And in New York, just last week, the governor sent the National Guard to a number of hospitals because 50 of our hospitals in Upstate New York are at less than 10 percent capacity to care for patients. That not only affects our COVID patients who are infected but all the patients who need to come in for other things, like heart attacks, like injuries.

So those really are the three things I'm looking at and all of them are looking kind of concerning right now.

JARRETT: So, given all these concerning metrics, residents in Philadelphia have been advised now, basically, don't get together during the holidays. Dr. Anthony Fauci says you can get together, especially if you're boosted. I think, to be honest, everybody's going to get together. Everybody's tired.


JARRETT: Everybody's going to do it.

What's your approach? Are you changing any behavior?

HILLS: Yes, you know, and I get it. People need that rejuvenation of getting together with family and friends and it's important.


I think the question now has become not only are you vaccinated, but are you boosted.


HILLS: So, if people are planning to get together that's a question to be asking. And people should feel comfortable asking that, especially people who are going to be in their homes. And really, people should be limiting gatherings, or really trying to, to those who are eligible who have been vaccinated and of those who are vaccinated who are eligible who have been boosted.

We have seen -- for example, look at -- look at Cornell. Look at the universities who are -- who are not shutting down and having issues. Cornell had 1,100 cases in the last week and they've had to shut down the university. And that's a population that's nearly entirely vaccinated.

So the question is not just are you vaccinated but are you boosted, and to really take that to heart.

ROMANS: Yes, we've seen Cornell. I think Princeton, I think NYU and others are doing their -- they're doing their winter exams online, you know -- going virtual just so they can try to stop this.

All of this, of course, after Thanksgiving when people went home and got together.

JARRETT: Yes. ROMANS: And I know the airline industry is bracing for next year. We're hoping -- they're hoping to return to 2019 kind of travel levels.

Two airline CEOs, Doctor, were asked about masking on airplanes -- listen.


GARY KELLY, CEO, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES: Yes, I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment. It's very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.


DOUG PARKER, CEO, AMERICAN AIRLINES: I concur. The aircraft is the safest place you can be. It's true of all of our aircraft. They all have these HEPA filters and the same airflow.


ROMANS: I don't know if I would be comfortable sitting without a mask next to someone who I don't know what their vaccination status is or what their health status is.

JARRETT: Yes. It would be one thing if they made everybody get vaccinated on a plane.

ROMANS: I know. So, does that answer make sense that it would be safe to be in close quarters for maybe hours at a time with people if you don't know whether they're vaccinated or not?

HILLS: No, it does not make sense at all. A HEPA filter has the capacity to filter the air to some degree. It absolutely does not filter the air 100 percent or even close to that. And if you're sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to somebody who is infected and may not know they're infected, a HEPA filter is really not going to make enough of a difference to fully protect you.

And really, if you're looking at evidence-based data -- you know, back in February the CDC reviewed 11 large studies and published it in the JAMA journal, showing that masks are incredibly effective and really important in preventing transmission of this virus. And really, that's what I'd be looking to. I'd be looking to the guidance from the CDC and other health officials because --


HILLS: -- they have consistently stated the importance of mask- wearing.

HEPA filters are a second step -- a helpful step. They are not a primary preventive measure when you're sitting within three feet of somebody, particularly shoulder-to-shoulder, in a crowded airplane cabin. ROMANS: From the business perspective of those CEOs -- I mean, I can

see how their employees have to enforce people wearing masks and that's caused all kinds of problems.

JARRETT: Well, that's fair.

ROMANS: So, you know -- I mean, they see it from maybe a different perspective than we do. But that healthcare perspective that you have, Doctor, is very critical here.

Dr. Susannah Hills, Columbia University Medical Center, thank you so much.

JARRETT: Thank you, Doctor.

All right. While planes and trains shuttle you around, who is shuttling around all your stuff? The Biden administration will unveil its trucking action plan today. This news just in to CNN. It's an effort to address this tangled supply chain that we talk about all the time plaguing the country.

The plan aims to tackle longstanding workforce challenges, including high turnover rates, long hours, being away from home, and all this time spent waiting, often unpaid, at congested ports and warehouses. Truckers move 71 percent of the U.S.'s economy of good, according to industry estimates.

ROMANS: All right.

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren upping the ante in her spat with Elon Musk after Musk was named "Time" magazine's Person of the Year. Warren called the world's richest person a freeloader for paying zero income taxes in recent years. Musk responded, calling Warren Sen. Karen and claiming his income tax bill is about to be the largest in U.S. history.

Warren has long advocated for raising taxes on the wealthy by imposing a tax on the richest Americans' assets rather than just their income. "Forbes" estimates Musk is worth $251 billion.

And he could be right about that record tax bill. Musk will pay at least $7.6 billion in taxes this year. He has been exercising stock options he was granted as his compensation in 2012.

JARRETT: Well, the mayor of San Francisco says she's fed up, frankly. London Breed is directing more police into one of the city's most notorious neighborhoods -- so-called Tenderloin, long plagued by violence, open drug use and dealing, and property crime.

Now, in a progressive city like San Francisco, she knows she's going to get some pushback. She's also confronting a public safety problem playing out right in front of all of our eyes.

ROMANS: That's right. In nearby Union Square, video in November captured people ransacking high-end stores -- Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, and others. Now, the mayor has had enough. [05:40:08]


MAYOR LONDON BREED (D), SAN FRANCISCO: And it's time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city -- it is time for it to come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policies, and less tolerant of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city.


ROMANS: More than two-thirds of the nation's most populous cities have seen more homicides in 2021 than last year, a continuation of the troubling increase in homicides that began at the onset of the pandemic, according to a CNN analysis of more than 40 major cities. At least 10 of those cities have broken their previous annual homicide records.

This crime issue, I think, is really important. And when you talk to people who live in San Francisco -- I mean, they'll tell you that over the past three or four years there's really been an erosion of just this feeling of public safety in some of these neighborhoods.

JARRETT: Yes. I think the question is just what do you do about it to fight it effectively?

ROMANS: We'll be right back.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

A murder plot over COVID vaccine mandates in Germany. Authorities arrested six suspects in Dresden Wednesday after uncovering a plot to murder the pro-vaccine governor of Saxony.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live for us in Berlin on this story. Fred, it seems that extremism is an early challenge for the new German chancellor.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a -- it's a massive challenge and certainly something that the German government has said is a big challenge. They feel that anti-vax movement and also those protesters against all of the measures to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic -- that that movement is small but certainly appears to radicalizing and appears to be coming more violent as well.

And as far as this plot is concerned, it's something where the local authorities absolutely rang the alarm bells. They say that this group communicated via the messaging app Telegram and that people within that group not only said that they wanted to kill the state governor of the state of Saxony and other members of the government of the state of Saxony, but also claimed that they were armed.

Now, that led to searches in several premises near the Dresden area. That's the capital of the state of Saxony. And there, the police did say that they did discover crossbows and other weapons, as they put it, as well. Unclear whether or not that might have been firearms or other things were discovered, but they certainly say that it is something that they found very troubling.

And you're absolutely right. This is a major challenge to the new chancellor -- to Olaf Scholz. He, yesterday, gave his first address in German Parliament and he made a point to say that the German government and German society would not take this radicalized movement and certainly said would not allow them to spread disunity here in Germany. He called them a tiny minority that he also said was unhinged and out of touch with reality. And he certainly said that all the measures of law enforcement and of the law would be taken to make sure that this does not spread any further and that these people can operate the way that those people in Dresden tried to do.

And this comes as last night there was another big demonstration in Munich -- 28 people detained there. Violence going on there.

And another plot where over the past couple of weeks parcels with raw meat and threatening letters had been sent to media outlets and politicians saying that they were toxic and more would be sent if Germany puts through a vaccine mandate.

So you can really see the movement here radicalizing -- small radicalizing and becoming more violent as well, guys.

JARRETT: All right, Fred. Thanks for staying on top of it.

ROMANS: A bouncy castle tragedy in Australia. Five children under the age of 12 died after they tumbled 32 feet when wind lifted a bouncy castle into the air. Children at a primary school in Tasmania were celebrating the end of the school year on Wednesday with, you know, school events. A strong gust of wind sent this inflated castle flying. Four other children are in critical condition. That's terrible.

JARRETT: Some other sad news to report this morning. Beloved feminist scholar and poet Bell Hooks died Wednesday after an extended illness. The 69-year-old was known for her writing on race, gender, and sexuality, producing more than 30 books over her lifetime, including 1981's "Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism." She was a distinguished professor at many universities, most recently at Berea College in Kentucky.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Looking at markets around the world for this Thursday trading session, big rallies in Asian markets, and Europe has opened higher here as well. Stock index futures also building on yesterday's gains this morning, if they hold.

U.S. stocks rose after the Federal Reserve pivoted to fight inflation. The Fed plans to wrap up its crisis-era stimulus faster than expected and could start raising interest rates early next year -- spring next year -- three times overall.

Stocks bounced on the news. The Dow and the S&P up more than one percent. All three indices are up double-digit percentages for the year.

Americans cut back on holiday spending in November. Shoppers faced rising inflation and supply shortages and frankly, many bought things early. New Census Bureau data shows U.S. retail sales grew by 0.3 percent last month, a drop from October and less than economists had predicted. Sales were still more than 16 percent higher than the same period last year, important to note.

So, experts are confident the holiday shopping season will still be strong as many consumers built up savings during the pandemic -- many benefiting from federal stimulus money and rising wages.

And then, here's a novel approach to the supply chain crunch. Kraft will pay you $20.00 not to make cheesecake for Christmas. Instead, on December 17th and 18th, buy another baked good up to $20.00 and charge it to Kraft, owner of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. The offer is good for up to 18,000 people. You have to visit a special website first.


Demand for cream cheese up 18 percent due to 2019, partly due to more people baking during the pandemic.

JARRETT: Is cheesecake a popular Christmas dessert that I just didn't know about this whole time?

ROMANS: It's not on my list.

JARRETT: It's never been on my list.

ROMANS: But this cheese -- this cream cheese shortage --

JARRETT: It's real.

ROMANS: -- is real.


ROMANS: It really is real. And there also -- there's some packing material that's in short supply they used to pack it with, too. So there's a couple of things going on there.

JARRETT: Well, I'm happy to take the $20.00.


JARRETT: All right, back to the breaking news overnight. The Jacksonville Jaguars fire their head coach Urban Meyer with four games remaining in his first season on the job.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Coy.


The last time a first-year NFL head coach didn't finish the season was 2007 with Bobby Petrino at the Falcons. But Urban Meyer's 2-11 record and a series of personal controversies led to his early dismissal early this morning.

Jags owner Shadid Khan saying, quote, "An immediate change is imperative for everyone."

The move comes just hours after former Jags kicker Josh Lambo told the "Tampa Bay Times" that he was kicked by Meyer while doing warm-ups before the team's final preseason game.

Meyer had signed a five-year deal with Jacksonville in January.

Meantime, the NFL is dealing with a surge of COVID cases as the league put another 31 players on the COVID reserve list yesterday. The source with knowledge of the testing tells Reuters that 94 players have tested positive since Monday but Commissioner Roger Goodell says there are no plans to postpone or cancel games.

The Browns now have 18 players on that list, including quarterback Baker Mayfield and 10 other starters. That's after head coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive for the virus. Stefanski missed Cleveland's first playoff appearance in 18 years last season, you might remember, after a positive test.

Let's go to hoops. A back-and-forth barnburner affair for the Lakers and Mavs. LeBron trying to tie it up in the final seconds. It's no good. But L.A.'s Wayne Ellington snags the rebound, scrambles around, and pulls up for downtown to hit that huge three to tie it with two seconds to go. But look at two Mavs players actually fighting for that ball and that's what flipped it to Ellington.

Dallas could have won it right there, but to overtime we go, and that is where an unlikely hero would emerge. Final seconds again, Lakers have the ball. Then on the team of superstars it's not LeBron or Anthony Davis, nor a driving Russell Westbrook for the win. It's undrafted rookie Austin Reaves for the game-winning three with .9 seconds left.

L.A. escapes with their third win in the world (ph), 107-104.

Reaves said he grew up watching those stars and now he's celebrating with them.

All right. Finally, maybe the biggest shocker in recent college football recruiting history. The number-one-rated high school player in the country spurning every big-time program with his college choice. Travis Hunter Jr., a five-star defensive back out of the Atlanta area, flipping from Florida State to play for Jackson State, the historically Black college in Mississippi and Coach Prime. Deion Sanders, the Hall of Famer, is going to be his coach.

Hunter tweeted after that it was always his dream to play for Florida State but he wanted to be a trailblazer for a new generation of players while following in the footsteps of guys like Jerry Rice, Doug Williams, and Walter Payton, all of whom played at HBCUs.

This is huge news.

JARRETT: Good for him.

WIRE: Incredible. Good for him. Good for Jackson State and all the HBCUs. This could change the game for them.

JARRETT: That's awesome.

Coy, thank you.

ROMANS: An exciting future for that young man.

JARRETT: All right. Thanks, Coy.

Well, for the first time in history, a spacecraft has managed to touch the sun. NASA's Parker solar probe successfully flew through the sun's upper atmosphere, sustaining temperatures near 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the mission's goals is to better understand weather events in space that affect life here on earth.

ROMANS: Very cool. Actually, very hot but very cool.

JARRETT: Cool, too.




ROMANS: Bruce Springsteen, the Boss, selling his entire music catalog to Sony Music in what could be the biggest single-artist music catalog deal to date. "The New York Times" reports the specific terms are unknown but the value may exceed $500 million.


ROMANS: And he's worth every penny. That is my objective comment of the day. That would be the single-biggest deal ever for an artist. Bob Dylan got $300 million for his catalog a year ago.

JARRETT: I guess I know what to get you for Christmas.

ROMANS: Have you seen him in concert before?

JARRETT: I have not but I know you have.

ROMANS: I have and I did it on a school night -- a work night, and it was a four --

JARRETT: That's how you know you're dedicated.

ROMANS: -- it was a four-hour show worth every minute. And the next day -- JARRETT: I hope you took the day off.

ROMANS: -- I made it -- I did, actually.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Thursday, December 16th. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

And this morning, the dilemma facing colleges and really, the country as coronavirus cases shoot up. And cases are definitely shooting up, rising a lot. Cornell University encapsulates the situation. About 1,000 new cases reported on campus. But the university president reports they are seeing --