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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden To Announce 500 Million Free At-Home Tests Amid Winter Resurgence; Europe Prepares New Restrictions As Omicron Spreads; McDonald's Worker Hops Through Window To Save Choking Woman. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 21, 2021 - 05:30   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Bring on the tests. President Biden will announce the purchase of a half-billion at-home rapid COVID-19 tests and a plan to distribute them free to Americans who want them. The Omicron variant is now the dominant strain in the U.S. More on all of this in just a moment.


ERIN ELDRIDGE, PROSECUTOR: It was precisely the thing she had been warned about for years and she was trained to prevent it.

EARL GRAY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And this lady here made a mistake and my gosh, a mistake is not a crime.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Day two of jury deliberations in the manslaughter trial of ex-Minnesota police officer Kim Potter. Potter mistook her firearm for a taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop back in April.

JARRETT: Ghislaine Maxwell's fate also in the hands of a jury. The jurors in Maxwell's sex trafficking trial will resume this morning with deliberations after deliberating for less than an hour on Monday. Maxwell faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted.

ROMANS: The Pentagon updating policies to address a troubling rise of extremism in the military ranks. New rules will hold service members accountable for views they express on social media. A number of military personnel and veterans were among those who attacked the U.S. Capitol in January.

JARRETT: The Biden administration announcing tougher fuel standards for cars and light trucks. It's all aimed at reducing carbon emissions. The new EPA rules will require passenger vehicles to travel an average of 55 miles per gallon of gas by 2026.

ROMANS: And SpaceX has launched another resupply mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft blasted off from Kennedy Space Center a short time ago. SpaceX has now completed a record 31 flights of its flagship rocket in 2021. JARRETT: Turning back now to the breaking news this morning -- COVID tests to your front door, finally. President Biden set to announce half a billion free COVID tests shipped to Americans. Key here: Americans who want them. Testing is something that has vexed America's COVID response from day one. Lines to get a lab test in many places stretching for hours, still, and at-home tests flying off store shelves.

Remember finding Clorox wipes in stores in spring of 2020? Me neither. That's what tests are like now.

So the White House is trying to do something about all this despite the press secretary having said this earlier this month.


REPORTER: Why not just make them free and give them out to -- and have them available everywhere?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Should we just send one to every American?


PSAKI: Then what happens -- then what happens if you -- if every American has one test? How much does that cost, and then what happens after that?

REPORTER: All I know is that other countries seem to be making them available for -- in greater quantities for less money.

PSAKI: Well, I think we share the same objective, which is to make them less expensive and more accessible, right? Every country is going to do that differently.


ROMANS: So that was -- that was two weeks ago from that remark -- flip remark to reality in just a couple of weeks. Scenes like this now are playing out everywhere. In Mesa, Arizona, free COVID-19 test kits were gone in two hours.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We knew that there would be a demand but not quite this fast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a great idea. It's additional peace of mind even though we're all vaccinated and boosted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm actually spending the holidays with my family. I've got an older uncle and my father. And so, we just want to take some precautions and just make sure that we're all good.


ROMANS: Wow. He's speaking for just about everybody I know right now, right?

Look, the fact is COVID is resurging nationwide. One factor, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. It now accounts for 73 percent of U.S. cases, making it, by far, the dominant strain.

JARRETT: One marker of how things have changed seemingly overnight, the NHL has suspended all play until at least after Christmas.

CNN's Jasmine Wright joins us again from Washington. Jasmine, the president addresses the nation this afternoon. We know there will be a new website. What else do we expect to hear?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. Look, well, that 500 million tests available to Americans who want them -- that's going to be a big part of the president's wintertime COVID plan that he will announce today at the White House. And officials say that Americans will be able to go online and request a test to be sent to them.

Now, another major part of his plan is going to be preparing 1,000 military service members to go alleviate overburdened hospital systems in January and February. Officials tell CNN that they hope to not have to use all 1,000. And those will be military doctors and nurses, and other medical personnel. But they will be available in case of these potentially looming surges.

And, of course, another part of that is going to be increasing vaccinations, as you see on the screen right now -- increasing vaccination sites and access, trying to make sure that more Americans are getting their shots -- trying to prepare them for a potential surge.

Now, White House press secretary Jen Psaki -- yesterday, she previewed the president's speech to reporters, talking about all of the areas that he is going to hit. Take a listen.



PSAKI: This is not a speech about locking the country down. This is a speech outlining and being direct and clear with the American people about the benefits of being vaccinated, the steps we're going to take to increase access and to increase testing, and the risks posed to unvaccinated individuals. That is not trying to scare people, or maybe it is trying to make clear to people in the country what the risks are here of not being vaccinated.

What is clear is that we're not in the same place that we were in. To be clear, COVID-19 is not the same threat to fully vaccinated individuals that it was in March 2020.


WRIGHT: So, that first part that Psaki said this is clear that it's not about shutdowns -- that's important because the White House continues to say that they are not going to shut the country down. But it is true that President Biden is responding to a different point of the pandemic.

Obviously, officials had hoped that they would have more control over the pandemic a year into his presidency, but things are starting to increase as these new variants circulate. So, the president is responding to that increase of cases in a nation that is really anxious about where this pandemic is going because of those increase of cases -- Laura, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Jasmine. Nice to see you this morning. Thank you.

A big day ahead. So let's discuss this with Dr. Chris Pernell, back with us this morning.

Let's talk, Doctor, about this White House plan that we're going to hear from today. Five hundred million COVID tests for American households, a website where you can request them. Is this finally moving in the right direction on testing?

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PHYSICIAN (via Webex by Cisco): Well, it's moving in the right direction but it can't be a one and done. What I mean by that is I still don't know and nor does the public know how many tests will be sent to households who want them and how soon.

We know in January that those tests will be made available but Omicron will continue to surge. It went from 13 percent of new cases to 73 percent of new cases as of the 18th of December. So we don't know where we will be when those tests are made available.

And outside of being sent to homes, those tests need to be in schools. Those tests need to be in pharmacies. Those tests need to be in grocery stores. An all-massive test approach.

JARRETT: Doctor, is it time to reframe how we talk about his virus a little bit? You know, Omicron is obviously the dominant variant in the United States right now. It's highly contagious. We all know someone who has COVID right now, if not more than one person. There is a probability that there's going to be another variant after this one, and then another one.

Is it time to get away from focusing on individual cases and instead, focus on severe illness and death, which we know can be prevented by vaccines?

PERNELL: You know, I don't think that's the right posture for us to take. I know someone younger than 40 in Florida who lost his life to COVID. A very young life snuffed out by this disease.

I think what people need to understand is that there are things and there are approaches we can do to protect ourselves, and when you do those things you are less likely to have the worst outcome. But we still don't know about long COVID, meaning if you get even an asymptomatic or mild infection how long COVID might potentially affect your life.

ROMANS: Pretty clear it is imperative here, Doctor, right, to get a booster if you haven't already. Yesterday we learned that the former president, Donald Trump, got his

booster. Listen to the reaction from some of his supporters.


BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "NO SPIN NEWS", FORMER FOX NEWS HOST: Both the president and I are vaxxed. And did you get the booster?


O'REILLY: I got it, too.

OK, so --

(Audience booing)

TRUMP: Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't -- no, no. That's all right. It's a very tiny group over there.


ROMANS: Yes, a tiny group over there of people booing the president getting a -- the former president getting a booster.

Can President Biden, today, break through to that smattering of anti- science Americans when even President Trump, who they love, can't?

PERNELL: You know, in order to win people back over to science -- and that's how I see it and say it -- we're going to have to be clear and transparent. And the White House has too often stumbled in our public health response has seemed scattered.

We need to reach people deep in the places where, because of politicization, people who don't think COVID is real or they don't think vaccines are appropriate. And we only do that by speaking in plainspoken terms, using folks whom they trust. And unfortunately, Trump, right now, is not necessarily trusted on that subject because he so poisoned the well.

JARRETT: Doctor, winter break is basically here for so many kids who are either home already or heading home for the holidays. What's the single-best way to make sure they get back to school safely in January, especially with rapid tests so scarce, at least right now, and most days are -- most places are taking days to turn around PCR tests?

PERNELL: Make sure your child is vaccinated. If you have a child that's five and above, make sure your child gets vaccinated over this winter break prior to going to school. That's the first and foremost thing that parents can do. You have that power at your disposal.


In addition to making sure your child is vaccinated, make sure your child has access to quality masks. And make sure that the school has a plan around cleaning and filtering air. Those are the steps that we can all take collectively to ensure that our children are in safe spaces while they're getting educated, and I hope we really make a priority of that.

ROMANS: You know, it's so fascinating, Doctor. Laura and I talk about this all the time -- sort of the risk analysis that every family is doing every single day, trying to decide how to alter their behavior to keep their family and friends safe.

The WHO director-general had a very stark kind of analysis of how to do the risk analysis for holiday gatherings -- listen.


DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: An event canceled is better than a life canceled. It's better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.


ROMANS: That's just is a heartbreaking kind of analysis, especially when we know that the airports are probably going to be full and people have COVID exhaustion. They want to gather.

What is your advice for families who are gathering for the holidays?

PERNELL: If you're not vaccinated and boosted I don't think you should mix with other family members outside of your household. I think that's just where our bottom line has to be so that we can enjoy our families when things are safer. If you are vaccinated and boosted, please, do enjoy your family but continue to take precautions.

If you're traveling make sure you're masked. If you're indoors and there are a lot of family members, make sure you crack some windows and open some doors. Use testing to ensure that no one is -- has an asymptomatic infection or a mild infection.

We can enjoy one another but we just have to do it in good sense.

ROMANS: All right, Dr. Chris Pernell. Always so nice to talk to you. Thank you.

JARRETT: Thanks, Doctor.

PERNELL: Thank you.

ROMANS: And have a happy holidays for you. I know this is a holiday week, everyone.

All right, concerns over the Omicron variant, along with the apparent collapse of the Build Back Better plan, raising red flags about the economy now.

Moody's chief economist, Mark Zandi, tells CNN, "The risks to the economic recovery next year are not inconsequential and are rising." He says Moody's likely will downgrade its economic forecast for the next few days, owing to the one-two punch of the COVID surge and Sen. Manchin's opposition to the president's economic bill.

Zandi says the 2022 forecast could be cut by as much as a percentage point. Goldman Sachs already did that -- cut its U.S. GDP forecast for the next three quarters.

We'll be right back.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

Before the Omicron variant took off here in the U.S. it spread quickly across Europe. Different countries are taking different approaches to keep people safe.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live for us in Berlin. Fred, what are the leaders in Germany and other nations doing to combat the rising infections? And have they figured out testing better than we have?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, testing certainly is one of the things Laura that here in Germany is actually working quite well. You can get free tests in a lot of places. There are little sort of huts that have sprung up in many places where you can get a quick antigen test, at least, very, very quickly. And a lot of places like, for instance, schools -- they actually test about three times a week.

So that is certainly a large part of the strategy trying to combat not just the Omicron but, of course, the Omicron variant was hitting as the Delta variant was really strong as well.

Now, of course, there is, as you mentioned, a lot of fear here on the continent about what the Omicron variant could do and how fast it could spread. Of course, the people here and the politicians here -- they've seen what's happened in the United Kingdom. They've seen what's happened in Denmark where the Omicron variant is spreading so quickly.

And then you have varying approaches. You have the Dutch, for instance, who have already issued a national lockdown, which is a really tough one where all non-essential shops are closed, as well as restaurants and then also bars as well. That's something that, of course, impacts Christmas a great deal.

The Germans want to not impact Christmas but they are going to have a big impact on New Year's Eve. In fact, just a couple of hours from now the new chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz -- he's going to meet with state leaders here and they are going to put in place -- they've already said -- new tough restrictions that are going to take hold on the 28th of December -- so, right before New Year's Eve.

And the interesting thing about those measures is they are going to impact unvaccinated people but also, vaccinated people as well. That's how big the concern is about the Omicron variant -- that they don't want people to be in larger gatherings when New Year's Eve comes around.

And, you know, one of the other things that Germany is now doing, which also shows how concerned they are, is they're ordering emergency medical personnel and institutions to really see whether or not they have emergency contingency plans in place in case large parts of their workforce come down and get infected with the Omicron variant. Just to make sure that the healthcare system, for instance, could continue to function if that were the case.

The Germans are saying they believe that the Omicron variant is probably going to hit here in full force in the middle of January. They say they understand it's something they can't stop but they want to be prepared, Laura.

JARRETT: All right, that's the hope. Fred, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right.

Proctor & Gamble is recalling more than two dozen aerosol spray hair care products because they could contain the cancer-causing chemical benzene. The recall includes Pantene and Herbal Essences. The company says it's unlikely people will be exposed to high levels -- levels high enough to cause health issues. For a full list of recalled items, go to

JARRETT: You definitely want to check that list.

Now to this. Actor Chris Noth losing another job in the wake of those sexual assault allegations against him. CBS has fired the actor from "THE EQUALIZER" effective immediately. Hours after that, three of his "SEX AND THE CITY" co-stars weighed in.

ROMANS: Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis posted a joint statement to their social media accounts. This is what it says. "We support the women who have come forward and shared their painful experiences. We know it must be a very difficult thing for them to do and we commend them for it."

Two women have accused Noth of sexual assault. He denies those allegations. Noth was also dropped by his talent agency, and Peloton pulled its ad featuring him.

JARRETT: Comedian and late-night host Trevor Noah is suing his doctor and the New York Hospital for Special Surgery, claiming they botched an undisclosed operation last year. In the complaint, Noah alleges that he sustained permanent, severe, and grievous injuries as a result of this. The hospital, in a statement, says the claims are meritless.


The exact nature of Noah's surgery -- exactly what he had done was not disclosed in the complaint.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Looking at markets around the world, Asian shares have closed higher. Europe has also opened on the upside. And on Wall Street, stock index futures are poised for a bounce at the opening bell.

Stocks started the week lower as soaring COVID cases raised new fears about restrictions that could hurt the economy. All three major averages fell at least one percent Monday. Some context here, though. We love to give the context, right? It's almost the end of the year and the S&P 500 is still up 21 percent so far this year, so not a surprise to see investors take some off the table.

U.S. oil prices also fell Monday, down almost four percent, settling just about 68 bucks a barrel. A global slowdown could dent demand for fuel and that, of course, would be good for your gas prices.

Also not helping sentiment, Sen. Joe Manchin sinking President Biden's $1.75 trillion social spending bill. That prompted Goldman Sachs to cut its growth forecast for next year.

One industry that felt the pain when Build Back Better was scuttled, electric vehicles. Stocks of electric vehicle startups, like Lordstown Motors, Farady Future, and Nikola dropped more than seven percent Monday. Shares of other automakers, like Tesla and General Motors, also fell. Both companies no longer qualify for federal electric vehicle tax credits but would have under Build Back Better.

President Biden has said he wants half of all new vehicles sold by 2030 to be electric.

JARRETT: The NHL announcing it's going to pause its season through Christmas due to the surge in COVID cases right now.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


So, the NHL is going to play two games tonight and then after that, the league is shutting down through Christmas due to the rise in COVID cases. Team facilities going to reopen on Sunday and daily COVID testing for players will resume then.

Nine NHL teams already had their seasons put on pause before this announcement, and the league had also shut down travel to and from Canada through Christmas. Games are scheduled to resume on Monday. There have now been 49 games postponed in the league this season.

The NFL, meanwhile, adding 51 players to the reserve COVID-19 list yesterday. It's the highest single-day total since the pandemic began. Among the big names on the list are Chiefs' tight end Travis Kelce and the Chargers' Joey Bosa.

This comes as the NFL moved away from weekly testing of vaccinated players. Going forward, the league says they will only test vaccinated individuals showing symptoms and random groups each week. Since the start of last week, 213 players have reportedly tested positive for the virus. That's nearly 10 percent of the league.

All right, the Browns went into last night's rescheduled game against the Raiders with 18 players on the COVID list, including quarterback Baker Mayfield and his backup, Case Keenum.

They were down to third-string quarterback Nick Mullens who put Cleveland in position to win. He threw a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to Harrison Bryant, which gave the Browns the lead. But Derek Carr making a big play in the final seconds to get the Raiders in field goal position. And Daniel Carlson would then come out and nail a 48-yarder as time expired.

Raiders staying alive for the playoffs with a 16-14 win.

The Vikings, meanwhile, keeping their playoff hopes alive with a win over the shorthanded Bears. Chicago without 14 players and a number of coaches due to COVID. Not a lot of offense in this one. Kirk Cousins threw for only 87 yards but it was enough against the Bears.

The Vikings win 17-9 to improve to 7-7. They're now in the last playoff spot in the NFC. The Bears, at 4-10 on the season, have been eliminated.

All right. Finally, one of the worst feelings as a dancer has to be when you get lost in a routine, but it happened to jazz dancer Danielle Bush last night. However, she was set up by her squad. They planned a new routine, without her knowing, to Bruno Mars' song "Marry You." And then, Danielle's boyfriend popped out of nowhere to propose to her.

I'll tell you what, guys, you see a lot of surprise proposals. That's one of the coolest ones I've ever seen.

ROMANS: I love it.

SCHOLES: Because her -- in her mind, she went from a horrified moment to probably one of the best moments in her life. So that's pretty cool.

JARRETT: That's incredible.

ROMANS: Wow, what a pendulum from oh my God, I'm out here and I don't know this routine to yes. She said yes. Did she say yes?

SCHOLES: Oh, she -- of course, she did.

JARRETT: She's putting on the ring.

SCHOLES: What a cool -- what a cool moment.

ROMANS: What a very cool moment.

All right, thanks so much. Nice to see you.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: All right, here's another cool moment. A McDonald's employee in Minnesota clocked out of her shift a hero after she saved a customer from choking. Fifteen-year-old Sydney Raley was working the drive-thru Saturday and she realized that a woman was choking on her food.


SYDNEY RALEY, MCDONALD'S EMPLOYEE WHO SAVED CHOKING WOMAN: She was coughing profusely. I could tell like, oh crap, she's choking. I jumped out the window of the drive-thru and I got her out of the car. I told her daughter to call 911.



ROMANS: Wow. Sydney and a bystander performed the Heimlich maneuver on the woman and saved her life. Laura, Sydney says she learned the Heimlich in a Red Cross babysitting class. Police gave her a $100 reward from a fund they have for people who do good deeds in the community.

JARRETT: That is amazing. Just so great.

And finally this morning for you, a new member of the first family just moved into the White House. President Biden and the first lady have a new puppy -- a purebred German Shepherd. His name is Commander and he was a birthday gift to the president from his brother and sister-in-law. Commander was born on September first and arrived at the White House yesterday.

What a wonderful birthday and Christmas present. And Christine, you know, we hear they're getting a cat as well.

ROMANS: Oh, wow -- lots of pets at the White House.

All right, thanks for joining us, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: You've got to do something to brighten your spirits right now.

ROMANS: I know. My brothers, please do not get me another dog for Christmas -- please.

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm still smiling over Commander in leash.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We've got more of those this morning -- don't you worry.

BERMAN: I can't wait.

Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world.