Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Americans Face Contradiction of Resurgent Virus in Holiday Season; Three Boosted Lawmakers Catch Breakthrough Infections; Biden to Lay Out Winter Risks for Unvaccinated Americans. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Good morning everyone, it's Monday, December 20th, it's 5:00 a.m. here in New York, thanks so much for getting an early start with us, I'm Laura Jarrett and things look a little different, but we are still together.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: We are still together, I'm Christine Romans, welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world, you can see we're on two different sides of the screen. We are back in our flash cams as they're called, we won't be sitting next to each other on the set just for the foreseeable future as this COVID surge happens this Winter surge, and I'm fine with that, Laura, right?

JARRETT: You know what? It's all about trying to stay safe. We are vaccinated, we are boosted --

ROMANS: Yes --

JARRETT: But we also want to stay on air.

ROMANS: Yes, we do. We do. And we want to bring you all the information that you need for this holiday season. So, let's begin with the COVID contradictions. Americans trying to live with a resurgent virus for Christmas week. So consider this. Millions lined up to watch the new "Spiderman" in crowded theaters.

JARRETT: And yet, New York State broke its record Sunday for the highest single day case-count for the third day in a row. Folks, we are talking over 22,000 new COVID cases reported for a single day. And this is not Omicron. This is the Delta variant, and this return to life indoors that's driving these numbers, and yet, we still haven't gotten the testing right in this country. Look at this. People lined up at testing sites for hours. I was one of them, results taking longer and longer. Rapid tests virtually impossible to find at your local drugstore.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like a couple of friends that I have, they have been vaccinated, did also like catch COVID or have scares. So, just kind of like trying to play it safe for the family.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Hanks.

TOM HANKS, ACTOR: Hello. Thank you. I'm Tom Hanks. Thank you surviving crew members. Tonight everyone --


ROMANS: A smattering of applause there because "Saturday Night Live" was barely live. "NBC" canceled the audience and sent home most of the crew during the show with no musical guests. And the Rockettes, the Radio City Rockettes canceling their season. Normally, they stage four shows a day to Christmas at Radio City Music Hall.

JARRETT: And yet, the streets outside "30 rock" were jammed with tourists visiting the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, at Rockefeller Center, and still officials are trying to maintain perspective on the difference between the worst days of 2020 and now.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK STATE: Because of the high level of vaccination, even though we expect a lot of cases, we do not expect to see some of the very painful reality we saw certainly in the Spring of 2020 or even last Winter. We think the outcomes, what happens to people is going to be very much better this time.

ERIC ADAMS, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR-ELECT: Cases are high, but here in New York, we're not at a place where we're seeing a substantial number of deaths and we're not seeing a real problem with hospitalization. The real problem is the pandemic of lack of vaccinations.


ROMANS: All right. it's unclear if the party is still on for new year's eve in Times Square. Paris and Dublin have already canceled their new year's eve celebrations. Businesses are concerned, OpenTable says restaurant reservations are declining again and outbreaks among already limited staff are forcing some restaurants to close.

JARRETT: And the school situation, Harvard, Stanford, Yale all switching to remote learning for now. NYU and Princeton among others had already made the switch. That list is going to just grow. All the concern though has not deterred travel. At least, so far, the TSA reported screening more than 2 million passengers every single day since Thursday, that's double the number from last year.

ROMANS: Now, all this really important to note here. This is driven by the Delta variant. This is a Delta surge. Omicron is looming in the coming days and weeks. Health officials in the U.K. and South Africa say Omicron spreads at a faster rate, but it's still not clear if Omicron is more likely to cause severe disease. The bottom line, if you are unvaccinated, you are vulnerable.


ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We are going to see a significant stress in some regions of the country on the hospital system, particularly in those areas where you have a low level of vaccination. Right now, in certain regions of the country, 50 percent of the isolates are Omicron, which means it's going to take over. It is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the Winter.



JARRETT: On Capitol Hill, three lawmakers tested positive over the weekend, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker and Colorado Congressman Jason Crow all reported having their booster shots and say their symptoms are mild.

ROMANS: Tomorrow, President Biden is set to announce new steps to fight Omicron and issue a stark warning for unvaccinated Americans in the coming Winter. The CDC says the unvaccinated face 10 times greater risk of testing positive and 20 times the risk of dying from COVID than people who are fully vaccinated and boosted.

JARRETT: So, joining us now to discuss all of this, Dr. Carlos del Rio; he is the Executive Associate Dean of Emory University School of Medicine. Doctor, so nice to have you this morning. So much to sort through. It seems as though we're having a bit of a hard time at calibrating our response to this virus and all the variants, even though it is no longer March 2020. And I want to read you something from James Hamblin, a physician and public health lecturer at Yale.

He writes this, "infection is not the same as sickness, and not all sickness is the same. Accepting that you're likely to get infected by this virus isn't the same thing as fatalism. It doesn't mean throwing your hands up and doing nothing." So, doctor, help me out. Isn't there some reasonable middle ground that doesn't require shutting everything down again?

CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Yes, I think we're going to have to do that. I think that at some point in time, we need to realize that is not -- our goal is no longer preventing -- having zero infections. We have to be able to live with a certain degree of transmission.

However, what we're seeing right now is simply too much transmission. So the need right now is to decrease transmission as much as possible, simply because there's simply too mean cases out there. And they're going to be even more cases out there, and that is a problem, it's not transmission, is the amount of transmission.

ROMANS: I'm so surprised. So many people I know are trying to get -- line up to get tests and get their kids tested, and you know, ahead of the Christmas travel and many people are going to do. The White House doctor recently dismissed the idea of sending at-home testing kits to all Americans. Here's a CNN medical analyst Jonathan Reiner. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's exactly what I think you should do. I think you should mail these tests out to everyone. The Trump administration missed an opportunity to mail masks out to everyone. This administration should be mailing tests out to everyone. This notion that people are going to submit their -- the receipts for their $24 tests to their insurance company is fanciful. Imagine what would happen to vaccination in this country if people had to pay for it up front and then bill their insurance companies. That wouldn't work. Same thing is for testing. So, we need to get our act together.


ROMANS: What are your thoughts there, doctor, on the testing issue and whether the government should be sending tests to everyone.

DEL RIO: You know, I couldn't agree more. The British are doing that. They're sending, you know, tests to everybody's home. And last year, you know, the Trump administration last, you know, sent checks to everybody's home. We can't do this. We should be sending tests to everybody. We should be sending masks to everybody. Yes, it's hard, but you know, difficult things need to be done, and that's what our government needs to do.

JARRETT: You know, in some cases, I was heartened to see so many people lined up for testing over the weekend because it means people actually following the advice --

ROMANS: Yes --

JARRETT: And every public health expert told us to try to get tested before the holidays, it's just so unfortunate that it seems that we still haven't gotten quite there. Doctor, I also want to ask you about some news that came out on Friday that sort of got lost in the shovel here, Pfizer saying that its trials of vaccines for young children, children 2 to 5 years old, they didn't provide the expected immune response in these children. It was just a two-dose vaccine, and so, now it looks like it needs to be a three-dose vaccine like what adults have already gotten. But what are parents supposed to make of this in the meantime?

DEL RIO: Well, I think it's very, you know, disappointing result. I think again, clinical trials, some work, some don't. And that's why you do the studies because you really need to understand whether what you're doing actually makes a difference or not. So, I think it's time to get back to the drawing table and to rethink the trial. Maybe have a third dose, maybe increase the amount of antigen. I think it's a disappointing result, but I think that's what science does.

ROMANS: The president is going to address the nation tomorrow, doctor, the push was of course, get vaccinated, get back to normal. But variants -- look, they're going to come up, right, indefinitely, really? So, what's the off-ramp here? What can the president or should the president be telling Americans tomorrow? DEL RIO: You know, I think it's -- the administration is in a very

difficult situation, but I think right now, what they need to do is they need to make it incredibly easy for people to get tested, to get vaccinated, to stay at home if they've been infected. And they also have to make sure that we have a way for the economy to continue working. I think one of the things we need to revise is the isolation guidelines.

People that test positive who are vaccinated, and many of them boosted like the ones you mentioned, you mentioned several members of Congress, they're feeling fine, they're probably going to be negative by day five. They should not be able -- they should not need to isolate for 10 days. If we continue having 10-day isolations, we're going to run out of healthcare workers, we're going to run out of essential workers.

And at the end of the day, it's not helping the nation. So, we need to figure out a way to do public health, but also do it in a way that the economy continues to function.


ROMANS: You know, at the center of all this, of course, is vaccination. And breaking news just moments ago. Moderna said a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine increased immune responses against the Omicron variant compared with two doses in lab tests. Pfizer had similar results recently. We're going to follow that all day. But again, just -- we're learning -- we're learning new information all the time as we learn how to live in a COVID economy -- COVID healthcare. Dr. Carlos del Rio, Emory University School of Medicine. Thank you, sir.

DEL RIO: Happy to be with you. All right, the president's Build Back Better plan dealt a fatal blow potentially by Joe Manchin. Now, the White House suggests he wasn't negotiating in good faith.




SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can't. I have tried everything humanly possible. I can't get there.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: You're done. This is -- this is a no?

MANCHIN: This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.


JARRETT: That's West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin finally putting an end to all the will he or won't he? Officially dealing a knockout blow to a signature part of the Biden agenda. The moderate Democrat effectively ending negotiations on the current version of legislation that would have expanded the nation's social safety net. Universal pre-k, help with childcare, healthcare subsidies, paid family leave, climate measures.

A lot of this had already been whittled down at Manchin's request, now it's indefinitely on hold CNN's Jasmine Wright is live for us in Wilmington, Delaware. Jasmine, it seems at least for the time, the pleasantries are now over and the White House is done with Joe Manchin.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Laura, look, that blistering rebuke that we saw from the White House aimed at Joe Manchin really came at the president's direction. CNN learned yesterday that the president learned of Joe Manchin's intention to say no on "Fox" here at his home in Wilmington, just a few minutes before the senator went on air. And, of course, White House aides then tried to get Manchin on the phone, which he refused. And of course, that kind of infuriated and astonished the president and his top advisors.

Sources close to them told CNN because -- remember, the president has gone through laborious effort trying to get Senator Joe Manchin to a yes on this hallmark legislation. He's been for months really curtailing to the senator to his deep concerns over the size and the scope of this $1.75 trillion bill that would do things like shore up the country's social safety net expansion really with education, with climate provisions.

Of course, that child tax care credit extension, and that Democrats credit with reducing childhood poverty by 50 percent since it has been in place. So, this is a really big bill with a lot of the president's priorities. That now, Senator Manchin has really basically kind of killed at least in this iteration. And so, I want to kind of read to you this really blistering rebuke from the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki about Manchin after he said no, because it's a remarkable statement that really -- that attacks a member of the president's own party.

She said that Senator Manchin's comments this morning on "Fox" are at odds with his discussions this week with the president. They represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his comments to the president and the senators colleagues in the House and Senate. Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.

In the meantime, Senator Manchin will have to explain to those families paying $1,000 a month for insulin why they need to keep paying that, instead of $35 for that vital medicine. He will have to explain to the nearly 2 million women who would get the affordable day care they need to return to work, why he opposes a plan to give them the help they need. Maybe Senator Manchin can explain to millions of children who have been lifted out of poverty in part due to the child tax credit why he wants to end a program that is helping achieve this milestone. We cannot." So there, the White House is not holding any punches, taking off the gloves. But of course, it wasn't just the president that Manchin's comments kind of pissed off, right. It was Democrats at large who had been through this effort, House moderates who had put their vote on the line for that house bill, voting for progressive issues. Of course, house progressives who didn't want to vote for the bill anyway, and of course, Senator Bernie Sanders on our air with Jake Tapper yesterday, he did not hold back when he offered this assessment of Manchin's comments. Take a listen.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I hope that we will bring a strong bill to the floor of the Senate as soon as we can, and let Mr. Manchin explain to the people of West Virginia why he doesn't have the guts to stand up to powerful special interests. If he doesn't have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.


WRIGHT: So, there you go, stinging words from Senator Sanders. But the question now is, Laura, where does this effort go forward? Will the White House vow that they will continue to work on this, they're going to continue trying to press Senator Manchin, but it is difficult to see how this iteration of the president's Build Back Better bill gets passed now with this newly frayed relationship. Laura?

JARRETT: That's the question, Jasmine. Thank you.

ROMANS: So on the demise of Build Back Better, Goldman Sachs quickly trimmed its forecast for the U.S. economy.


Goldman economists writing this, "a failure to pass BBB has negative growth implications, particularly the expiration of that refundable child tax credit and other major new government spending. It was a part of the package." Goldman now expects GDP to grow at an annual pace of 2 percent in the first quarter of next year, down from an earlier estimate of 3 percent with similar cuts in the second and third quarters.

The Goldman economists don't see it becoming an easier to pass Build Back Better in the coming weeks. They say the inflation that Manchin is worried about is likely to persist. So what does this mean for you? I think it's so interesting, Laura, that blistering, as Jasmine said, response from Jen Psaki and from the White House team, I mean, they were pointing out all of these things or investments in working families.

Say that this is a real blow to working families, subsidized child care, universal pre-k, home healthcare. You know, instead of having your grandma or your great grandma having to, you know, move to a nursing home, keeping her in her home with some low-cost care to keep seniors in place. There are so many things in this. Really, a generational kind of remaking of where we put the investments in the economy, investing into the working people or working families, not necessarily into tax cuts for business. It's a real -- it's a real disappointment for some people who for so long have been wanting these kinds of investments to be made.

And just to remind you, that a 93 percent of the kids in West Virginia were eligible for that child tax credit. So, you know, how he explains this back home I think, Senator Manchin, is interesting.

JARRETT: And given those stakes, you would think that he would have picked up the White House's call when they wanted to --

ROMANS: Right --

JARRETT: Try to talk to him about this. But apparently, the reporting shows he did not. Well, still ahead for you, even countries with high vaccination rates not immune from the Delta-Omicron double whammy. A live report from Europe next.



ROMANS: Welcome back. To Denmark now where the Omicron variant is putting existing COVID protocols to the test even in highly vaccinated countries. And in Denmark's case, there is cause for concern. Health officials warn the country is entering the hardest month yet of this pandemic. CNN's Cyril Vanier live in Paris. What's happening there?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, this is something that we're seeing across Europe with European governments really scratching their heads on how do we stop the current wave of Delta-driven infections, and then how do we stop the impending wave of Omicron-driven infections that are supposed to be -- that are going to become the dominant-type of infection next month. So, Denmark has decided to take the following proactive step. It has shut down its cultural scene.

That means museums, art galleries, it also means amusement parks, zoos, you know, that is a large swath of public life. The type of place where people are going to meet in public spaces, and Denmark deemed that was necessary especially ahead of the Christmas period to avoid another surge in infections. If you look not very far from Denmark, the Netherlands, there's a Christmas lockdown there.

So, various countries are taking steps more or less restrictive, they're very restrictive in the Netherlands, they're also very restrictive in Denmark, because they're trying to, first of all, contain Delta and then slow down the inevitable arrival of Omicron. Some countries also closing their borders, France and Germany shutting down their borders essentially to U.K. travelers because of the number of Omicron-fueled cases there are so high.

Europe knows that it is not going to avoid a wave of Omicron. It is just trying to slow it down at this stage, especially ahead of a busy holiday season. ROMANS: Yes, here we are, 2021, heading into 2022, different than

2020, of course. We know so much more now, but still so many challenges for managing through COVID. Cyril, thank you so much for that.

JARRETT: All right, so we know next year's Midterms could mean a real shake-up in the House and the Senate. But what about the U.S. Supreme Court? What if there is a vacancy there? We have new CNN reporting this morning suggesting history could repeat itself.