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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Thousands Of Federal Inmates To Remain On Home Confinement; U.K. Trims COVID Self-Isolation Period From 10 To 7 Days; Boeing, Airbus CEOs Want 5G Cell Service Rollout Delayed. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 22, 2021 - 05:30   ET




SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): State legislators in Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Arizona filing at least 13 bills for 2022 making it tougher to vote. In Arizona, home of the infamous partisan review that still showed Trump lost --

KAREN FANN (R), MEMBER, ARIZONA STATE SENATE: We have a lot of people that have serious questions about election integrity, not just in Arizona but in the entire nation.

MURRAY (voice-over): -- legislators are now eyeing stricter voter identification requirements. And the GOP's audit fever also appears likely to carry into 2022.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They want the forensic audits. They don't want the (bleep) audits.

MURRAY (voice-over): Pre-filed bills in Florida and Tennessee would set off partisan reviews of the 2020 election results. And in Missouri, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, pre-filed bills are laying out guidelines for conducting future partisan reviews.

MURRAY (on camera): Senate Democrats insist the national voting rights legislation is at the top of their agenda for 2022 but state Republican lawmakers are not waiting. They are making these plans ahead of time. They are moving ahead.

And democracy advocates are worried about what's going to happen if these laws pass, and they're worried when they look at some of the secretary of state races, some of these attorney general races where people who have questioned or flat-out denied the results of the 2020 election are still running.

Back to you.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Sara Murray, thank you.

EARLY START continues right now. Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. Three days until Christmas and 31 minutes past the hour. Time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

Frustrated Americans are struggling to get tested for COVID with cases surging and Christmas just days away. CVS and Walgreens say they will limit the number of at-home kits customers can buy because of the huge demand.

JARRETT: Jurors in the manslaughter trial of ex-Minnesota police officer Kim Potter struggling to reach a consensus. On Tuesday, they asked the judge for guidance. The judge basically said keep at it. Brooklyn Center police are preparing to set up barricades and road closures in case they're needed.

ROMANS: The FDA investigating a listeria outbreak in eight states linked to package salads made by Fresh Express. One person has died; 10 others have been hospitalized. The company is recalling packaged salad products made at its facility in Illinois.

JARRETT: Harvard professor Charles Lieber convicted by a federal jury of lying about his ties to a Chinese university and a recruitment program run by the Beijing government. U.S. authorities believe the recruitment program may have been used to conduct economic espionage.

ROMANS: And National Hockey League players won't participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Multiple outlets reported Tuesday the NHL has paused its regular-season schedule until after Christmas because of COVID outbreaks in the league.

JARRETT: And a historic preservation team plans to open up a time capsule today from 1887. It was found last week as crews took apart the pedestal that held the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia.

Well, President Biden walking a fine line this week trying to settle Americans' fears over the coronavirus pandemic.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should all be concerned about Omicron but not panicked.


JARRETT: All right, it's time for three questions in three minutes. He went -- he said a little bit more. But let's bring in Dr. Ali Raja. He's the executive vice-chair of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

ROMANS: Good morning.

JARRETT: Doctor, thank you so much for being with us.

We've been talking a lot lately about sort of refocusing the discussion more on hospitalizations and less on just pure case counts. So talk to us about what you're seeing and you're hearing. You're on the ground there. We see reports of hospitals growing overwhelmed in places and not only because of staffing shortages but more people are actually coming to the E.R. now for non-COVID problems.

DR. ALI RAJA, PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL, EXECUTIVE VICE-CHAIR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL (via Skype): That's absolutely true, Laura. I'm working through the holidays and I know I'm going to see a lot more patients than I normally would. Like you said, some of it's going to be COVID, especially in patients who aren't vaccinated, but most of it isn't. And a lot of it is just patients who were forced to delay care because of the pandemic and that's catching up to us.

I've got to tell you, added to the staffing shortages that we're facing and the mild breakthrough infections that we're seeing in our staff and their families, it's going to be a tough few months for us in the hospital.

ROMANS: Yes, I'm sure it will be. And our hearts go out to everybody working in healthcare toward the end of the year. They're facing this again.

Meanwhile, at home, Laura and I -- we're doing risk management every day trying to keep our families safe and decide what to do and weigh this information that's sort of changing as we learn more every morning about Omicron. It's spreading faster but appears to be less severe than Delta. When we zero in on this chart of hospitalizations you can see that summer surge there was Delta.

But what do you say to Americans looking to celebrate the holidays or business owners looking to stay open right now during Omicron? Should we be treating this differently or the same? What are the risk management metrics we should be using every morning when we try to decide what to do for the holidays?


RAJA: That's such a good question, Christine. It's something that my family is wrestling with and all of us are.

You know, I think we need to remember that this year isn't last year and we really do really need to reconnect this holiday season. And so, we just need to be careful. We didn't have vaccines last year. We didn't have as many masks and tests available.

So I think this year we can still proceed with holiday gatherings but we need to do so safely. So, I'm talking about rapid tests, plenty of ventilation, and masks in public places.

JARRETT: Doctor, could I ask you just on a personal level are you changing any of your own behaviors and practices just sort of to account for where we are? Are you eating out in restaurants?

RAJA: I'm not eating out at restaurants but we are having family come over on Christmas Eve. And we -- I will have a bunch of rapid tests that we're all going to take beforehand. So I'm not doing as much publicly but we're still gathering privately.

ROMANS: That's good advice.

JARRETT: Yes, we're trying to do the same. You know, trying to find rapid tests but they are in short supply and hard to get right now. But --

RAJA: And expensive.

JARRETT: And expensive -- that's the other thing. It's not like you can just go in and get them for a dollar like you can in other places.

I also want to ask you about some research we're seeing in the U.K. and Japan, and South Africa that suggests that Omicron might be less likely to cause severe lung disease than other strains of COVID. Basically, it seems like it doesn't embed in the lungs in the same way as this original strain.

What more do you know about that?

RAJA: That's -- it's a really interesting small study that just came out, Laura. So, it was done in a petri dish, right, so this wasn't done in actual lungs and it's not yet peer-reviewed. But it had some pretty interesting findings that in the lab in this petri dish, when you exposed lung cells to Omicron and Delta, the Omicron spike protein wasn't really able to fuse with the lung cells as easily as the Delta was.

If this is replicated by others it may actually explain why we're seeing less severe disease with this variant.

ROMANS: Something to watch. Something optimistic maybe, hopefully, to watch.

Dr. Ali Raja of Massachusetts General Hospital, thank you so much for your time this morning.

JARRETT: Thank you.

RAJA: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

Some school districts are headed back online given the latest COVID surge, mine included. But the education secretary says there's no reason for schools to switch to remote learning.


MIGUEL CARDONA, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Our children need to be in school. We know how to keep them safe. We have a year's worth of experience and we have vaccination efforts happening for children five and up.

The precautions that we took were necessary but we're a year removed from that. We know what works. We know how to protect ourselves. There's no reason our schools should be going remote fully. We need to keep our kids in the classroom.


JARRETT: Boy, we have come a long way.

Secretary Cardona added that the CDC's Test-to-Stay program also allows shorter quarantine periods for vaccinated students. The Education Department is working closely with Health and Human Services to make COVID tests available to students so they can stay in physical classrooms.

ROMANS: And as the U.S. grapples with the rise of the Omicron variant there is new information about the human toll of the original virus in 2020. The CDC says COVID-19 contributed to the biggest drop in life expectancy in more than 75 years. This shocked the statisticians who were working on these numbers.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reports.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Christine, Laura, the CDC has put out a new mortality rate looking at deaths in 2020, and the news, unfortunately, is not good. Let's take a look at what the CDC found.

The CDC says that in 2020, life expectancy was 77 years old. That's down 1.8 years compared to 2019. That's the largest annual drop since World War II. The three leading causes of death, in this order, heart disease, cancer, and COVID-19. COVID-19 was responsible for 10 percent of all deaths in 2020.

Now, overall, some groups, unfortunately, were hit much harder than others. The death rate increase from 2019 to 2020 -- it was 1.7 times higher for Black males than when you look at the population in general. That death rate increase was 2.5 times higher for Latino males than the population in general.

So, 2020, a particularly deadly year, especially for certain groups of Americans -- Christine, Laura.


JARRETT: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for that.

Some news out of the Justice Department this morning. DOJ says nearly 8,000 federal inmates can serve out their sentences at home rather than return to prison. Thousands of people, you'll remember, were released to home confinement during the early days of the pandemic to slow the spread of COVID and to ease the burden on prison staff.

Now, Attorney General Merrick Garland says many people have reconnected with their families, gotten jobs, and followed the rules.

We'll be right back.



ROMANS: The big question here, how long to quarantine after a positive COVID test? British health officials are looking to shorten the self-isolation time.

CNN's Barbie Nadeau is following all the latest pandemic headlines out of Europe. She joins us this morning from Rome. And Barbie, CNN's Jacqueline Howard has reported this morning that U.S. health officials are looking at a -- at a similar change to shorten the self-isolation time after a positive -- a positive test with no symptoms.

So, what's the U.K. doing?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the U.K. -- it's interesting in the U.K. where they've had around 90,000 new cases every single day. They're looking at shortening it from 10 to seven days. Now, that's going to be good news to a lot of people who aren't -- don't have any symptoms and you test out of it right away.

And we've seen a lot of healthcare workers there catching COVID at this round. We're also seeing a real scattershot approach all across Europe.

Sweden, which didn't really even pay attention to the pandemic the first time around and refused to have any lockdowns which led to great loss of life there -- they have got big restrictions coming their way. Germany is looking at a lockdown after Christmas.

Here in Italy, where we've had a mask mandate since March 2020, now in the city of Rome and the area around Rome people have to wear masks outside. That's starts tomorrow. If you're walking your dog you're going to have to put a mask on.

So we're seeing all these various approaches. A lot of it, you know -- Christmas, you can kind of get together. But New Year's -- I think it's going to be a total bust across Europe. In Rome, we've canceled the concert here. In Paris, they're not going to have their big light show.


And it's also trying to stop the spread and the numbers. But we don't know entirely if this is all Omicron or if this is still Delta. Not every country is sequencing every positive test result. In Denmark, they are. And here in Italy cases of Omicron seem low because they're not sequencing every positive result.

So, it's going to -- Christmas is going to happen but it's not going to be a very happy one.

ROMANS: Christmas is going to happen but it'll be another COVID Christmas.

Barbie, thank you so much -- Laura. JARRETT: So, right now, many are weighing the risks of holiday travel given COVID, not to mention all the new rules. But two of the world's biggest airplane makers are focused on something else -- could new cell phone service endanger your flight?

CNN's Pete Muntean has a closer look for us.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION AND TRANSPORTATION CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It is the newest issue that could impact your safety in the sky. Airlines are warning that radio waves from soon-to-be-turned-on high-speed phone service could interfere with key instruments that pilots use to land.

In this simulator of a regional airliner, I saw how automatic warnings could stop and flight displays give confusing mismatched readings.

MUNTEAN (on camera): What would you do? Would you just go around and that would --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And figure it out, right.

MUNTEAN (on camera): -- cause a big bottleneck.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): In a new letter, the CEOs of Boeing and Airbus America are telling the Biden administration that interference from 5G cell transmitters near airports could adversely affect the ability of aircraft to safely operate.

On Capitol Hill last week, airline executives called it their number- one issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How concerned should passengers be? How scared should they be about this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the passengers will be safe but it will be really damaging to customers. I mean, 100,000 customers a day impacted by this.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Providers such as AT&T and Verizon plan to turn on 5G in just weeks, on January fifth, with the promise of speeding up cell data in 46 markets. But major airlines say the signals could slow down hundreds of thousands of flights. A new analysis from industry group Airlines for America says 345,000 flights could be delayed or diverted each year, affecting 32 million passengers.


MUNTEAN (voice-over): 5G interference impacts radar altimeters -- critical instruments that pilots use to tell their actual height above the ground and make landings in low visibility.

ROJAS: If you have a 5G signal, it will increase the noise level on the (INAUDIBLE).

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Eduardo Rojas leads the radio spectrum lab at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

ROJAS: It's one of the most critical systems in aircraft and helicopters, especially because it helps to land. So it is a concern -- it's a big concern.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Airline executives say now it is on the federal government to ban 5G transmitters from nearby airports or delay its rollout so your next flight isn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not an issue created by airlines or airline customers, and it cannot be solved on the backs of airlines and airline customers.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Pete Muntean, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right, act of line and you'll wait in line. That message from the head of the FAA, warning unruly airline passengers -- they could lose their TSA precheck privileges. Under a new partnership between the two agencies, the FAA will now share information with the TSA on passengers who face fines for belligerent and often violent behavior on flights and in airports.

This year alone, there have been more than 5,500 incidents involving unruly passengers. Most, officials say, are mask-related.

JARRETT: In Colorado, prosecutors are requesting a hearing to reconsider a man's 110-year prison sentence for a crash that killed four people and injured 10 on Interstate 70.

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos' case has gained national attention, including from the celebrity turned criminal justice advocate Kim Kardashian West. The online petition to commute his sentence or grant him clemency has gathered more than four million signatures.

His sentence was the result of the mandatory minimum that applies to any offense in which somebody suffers serious bodily injury.

ROMANS: All right, looking at markets around the world this Wednesday morning on -- you can see futures are -- we'll start with global markets. You can see Asian shares are mixed. Europe has opened mixed here. And on Wall Street, stock index futures at this hour -- we can look at it there -- also mixed. Not very decisive, really.

Turnaround Tuesday on Wall Street though, shaking off several days of gloom. The Dow rose 1.6 percent. The S&P 500 rose 1.8 percent. The Nasdaq up a strong 2.4 percent.

There's still plenty of uncertainty in the economy with the spread of Omicron raising concerns of official restrictions. But remember, all three indices are on track for double-digit gains for the year. A lot to digest today. Consumer confidence, existing home sales, and

an update -- the final one -- for third-quarter GDP. The latest read said the U.S. economy grew 2.1 percent year-over-year in the third quarter. That's not expected to change.

Also today, the president will meet with private-sector CEOs for an update on disruptions in the supply chain. The White House, in announcing that meeting, also noting this morning good news at the pump for American consumers and drivers. Gas prices are falling -- $3.30 today, down two cents from last week and down 11 cents from last month.


Natural gas prices tumbling amid winter's warm start. It could mean much-needed relief to many Americans who have been bracing for high home heating bills since natural gas is used to heat almost half of U.S. households.

Rising natural gas prices in the U.S. often stem from the size of natural gas inventories held in storage, which shrank in September more than seven percent below the five-year average. But storage levels have recovered in large part due to the unseasonably warm start to the winter.

JARRETT: All right, let's get a little sports. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says he has no plans to pause the season, even with this current COVID surge.

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


So the commissioner, Adam Silver, says 97 percent of NBA players are vaccinated with about 65 percent of them also receiving their booster shot.

In an interview with ESPN, Silver said he doesn't see a reason why the NBA should pause their season.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: We've, of course, looked at all the options. But frankly, we're having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now. As we look through these cases literally ripping through the country right now this virus will not be eradicated and we're going to have to learn to live with it.


SCHOLES: Now, the NFL has moved to a model of mainly testing vaccinated individuals only if they show symptoms. Silver said that is something the NBA is looking at but they are not ready to make that change just yet.

All right, the NHL, meanwhile, and its players association have reportedly agreed to pull out of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing. The NHL had originally planned on allowing players to go to the Olympics as part of the new collective bargaining agreement signed during the summer of 2020. But they put in a provision there that they could pull the players if the NHL season was materially impacted by COVID. And so far, 50 games have been postponed.

The NHL was going to take a break from February sixth to the 22nd for the Olympics but now likely going to use that time to make up games that have been postponed due to COVID. NHL players have not played in an Olympics since the Sochi Games in 2014.

Now, the reported move comes after the NHL announced a shutdown of all league operations starting today until December 26th to try to curb the recent surge in COVID cases.

All right, we did have two Tuesday night NFL games due to COVID postponements.

And the Rams' Cooper Kupp continuing his incredible season. Fourth quarter between Seahawks and Rams, they were tied at 10. Matthew Stafford to Kupp over the middle, scoring some 29 yards out to put the Rams in the lead for good. They'd go on to win 20-10.

Kupp, nine catches, 136 yards, two touchdowns. He set the single- season record for catches for the Rams last night. They still have three games left to go. Kupp leads the NFL in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, making his fantasy owners pretty happy this season.

The other game last night saw the Eagles hosting Washington. Some bad luck for the Eagles early in this one. Dallas Goedert has -- he drops the pass. Watch -- it goes right off his foot and Landon Collins is going to grab it for an interception.

Washington would lead 10-0 after a quarter but Philly mounting a comeback. Jalen Hurts, in his first game back from that ankle injury, ran for two touchdowns and threw for another as the Eagles got the win in that one, 27-17.

And Washington's Jennifer King making some history last night, becoming the first Black woman to be a position coach during an NFL game. King is the assistant to running backs coach Randy Jordan, but he had to miss the game due to COVID protocols. So King stepped in there, guys, and that was pretty cool to see her on the sidelines in an official capacity.

ROMANS: Yes, very cool.

JARRETT: All right.

ROMANS: Thanks, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

JARRETT: Appreciate it, Andy.

All right, get this. A 70-million-year-old fossil is shedding new light on the link between dinosaurs and birds. A dinosaur curled up inside its egg was discovered in China more than two decades ago but it sat in storage for 10 years. Researchers say the fossil indicates that dinosaurs were moving around and changing poses before hatching in a way that is similar to modern birds.

ROMANS: Very cool.

Something else that sat around too long, a big cash donation to the City College of New York. Look at that -- a box of cash. It sat in a mailroom for nearly a year because classes were virtual and few people were coming in. When in-person classes resumed, the head of the physics department finally got his mail and he found this -- $180,000 cash. The anonymous donor wrote that the school was key to their long, successful scientific career and wanted the money used to help physics and math majors.

JARRETT: I have questions about why it's all in cash, but it's still cool.

ROMANS: It is cool.

JARRETT: It's great. I'm glad they found it, finally.

All right. A World War II veteran says his latest honor means a lot to his family -- his high school diploma.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd like to present a 1943 Stadium High School diploma to Ernie Reda.



JARRETT: Wow. Ernie Reda was sent to boot camp in 1943, which was supposed to be his graduating year. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and took part in the Normandy invasion.

ROMANS: But since he never received his diploma his granddaughter asked the school to participate in a program called Operation Recognition that recognizes those who were drafted and unable to finish high school.


ERNIE REDA, 97-YEAR-OLD WORLD WAR II VETERAN: God bless everybody. It's the best Christmas I ever had. It's about time, you know -- 78 years is a long time.

You know, when I came home from the -- from the service, the ship docked and I got off the ship. I looked up and guess what I -- the first thing I see? Stadium High School.


ROMANS: The school says Reda is the first veteran they've honored but he will not be the last.

You know, I just -- that story warms my heart because the sacrifice of that --


ROMANS: -- generation for democracy -- for this country is just epic. And one hopes that we remember that and we base our decisions on the sacrifices of our grandfathers and grandmothers.

JARRETT: That's certainly the hope. And the value of education.


JARRETT: It still meant something to him to have that physical diploma in his hand even all these years later.

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

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Brianna is off. Erica Hill joins me this morning.

On this new day, concern, not panic. President Biden laying out his plan to fight the fast-spreading Omicron variant as Americans begin to gather for the holidays. But will it be enough?

And the U.K. reducing its COVID isolation period from 10 days to seven. Why the U.S. may not be far behind.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Allies of President Trump stonewalling the January 6 Committee. Michael Flynn now suing to keep his phone records under wraps.