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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

What Will Life Be Like In Year Three Of The Pandemic; Armed Intruder Arrested At Windsor Castle With Queen In Residence; Afghan Girls' Robotics Team Starts Next Chapter In Mexico. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 27, 2021 - 05:30   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: And the jury in the fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes returns today to deliberate her fate. The former CEO of Theranos is accused of defrauding financial backers, customers, and patients into believing her blood-testing startup was going to revolutionize medicine.

REID: And a clemency hearing today for a truck driver sentenced to 110 years in prison for a fatal 2019 crash. Rogel Aguilera-Mederos told police his brakes failed while he was traveling at 85 miles an hour. The judge originally said at sentencing his hands were tied by the state's mandatory minimum for the crime.

JARRETT: Today, the LAPD releases bodycam footage from the shooting death of a 14-year-old girl. The teen was killed Thursday in a department store dressing room when police fired at a different person -- a suspect inside that store.

REID: And a third college football bowl game is now up in the air. The University of Miami pulled out of Friday's Sun Bowl because of the COVID surge. Officials at Washington State are now trying to find a replacement opponent for the game.

JARRETT: So, with 2022 right around the corner the world is wondering what will life look like in year three of the pandemic? I can't believe I'm saying year three. But so far, Omicron seems to pose a less deadly threat to vaccinated people. But this virus is still spreading like wildfire around the globe at an alarming rate, potentially causing disruptions for the foreseeable future.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: The issue that we don't want to get complacent about, John, is that when you have such a high volume of new infections it might override a real diminution in severity. So that if you have many, many, many more people with a less level of severity that might kind of neutralize the positive effect of having less severity when you have so many more people. And we're particularly worried about those who are in that unvaccinated class. (END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Still, some public health officials are confident that 2022 could be the year we finally get COVID under control.


DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: I think it is definitely the year we get this under control, and I -- let me explain why. I mean, you know, this holiday season -- and no one thinks of this as the holiday season we were hoping for but contrast it to last year. It's so much better.

Well, next holiday season, I doubt COVID will be completely gone. I assure you it won't be gone. It will be endemic -- it will be around -- but it will be much, much better than this year. Because while the virus continues to change, so do we. We're building better tools.

We'll have more variants. I'm actually convinced that we'll have more variants, but each of them will impact us less and less. And we will get to a point -- certainly by the end of this new year coming up, we will get to a point where we'll see new waves of infection. It will not have a big effect on hospitals.


JARRETT: All right, it's time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena. He's an emergency room physician at Staten Island University and director of global health at Northwell Health. Doctor, thank you so much for being here with us. I really appreciate everything that you are doing right now.

You are in what is, again, the epicenter in New York, which reported its highest case count ever this Christmas Eve -- something -- nearly 50,000 new cases, which is just mindboggling. But at the same time, hospitalizations are nowhere near where they were doing those early, awful days of the pandemic, which is a good thing except for what's happening with kids. And that's what I want to ask you about because there's been this four-fold increase in hospitalizations among kids in New York City.

Why do you think that's happening?

DR. ERIC CIOE-PENA, E.R. PHYSICIAN, STATEN ISLAND UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, GLOBAL DIRECTOR, NORTHWELL HEALTH (via Webex by Cisco): So, I think -- good morning, by the way. Thank you for having me.

I think that the increase in pediatric cases probably is two-fold. Number one, that it represents a population in New York City that isn't fully vaccinated yet or may not be fully vaccinated. Under-five may not be eligible for vaccination. So we are going see, I think, more cases.

I think the other thing that may happen is because Omicron is so infectious we're seeing a lot of people who are not -- they're getting hospitalized but not necessarily hospitalized for COVID. They're getting hospitalized for another reason. And because we're testing all of our admissions they're also a positive case and act as a positive hospitalized case.

So, it isn't to say that I think that we're seeing severe disease in children. We are in some cases but it's still a very small population. And I think we're just -- we're seeing a lot of, kind of, surrogates for the fact this is a very, very infectious variant.

JARRETT: Well, and you know, I know so many friends who have kids who have the flu or RSV, or all kinds of other things on top of COVID and then end up in the hospital as well.

CIOE-PENA: Definitely -- absolutely.

REID: We saw New York City cut the isolation time for vaccinated essential workers to five days, down from 10. They just need to show they have no symptoms and then they can return to work.

Look, is this -- is this part of a broader trend? Is this too quick? And is it, ultimately, fair to these workers? Do you they enough time to really recover?

CIOE-PENA: Well, I mean, part of that reduction is that they need to be -- have improving symptoms or symptom-free. Fever-free, certainly.


One of the things that we're seeing is that because we have 100 percent vaccinated healthcare workforce in New York, we're seeing that vaccinated people do recover from this a lot quicker than people who are unvaccinated. And so, we are taking advantage of that fact that it can be a very mild or asymptomatic infection and that they really don't have any symptoms per se by day five or six.

We certainly have used it as a way of reinforcing our lines and making sure that our colleagues that are still on the front lines that are fighting this are -- you know, get relief and have the relief that they need. But it is a balance. You certainly don't want someone coming to work feeling sick and I don't think that was the intent of the reduction.

JARRETT: Well, and it just shows you the desperation, right? We wouldn't be doing this if the hospitals weren't already on the brink of collapse and worried about being able to sustain this latest wave.

I also want to ask you about college students. You know, so many came home for the holidays from school just as this virus was sort of taking off.

What do you think the best approach is going forward over these next coming weeks? Should college students go back to campus? Should they stay remote? What do you think is the balance there?

CIOE-PENA: Yes. I think -- I think we need to balance this as well. So, you're going to look at the college specifically. Do they have a vaccine mandate? Are they asking their students to be boosted before they return to campus? That's a separate kind of risk category -- separate risk of spreading.

The second thing is you've got to use testing. They're going to use testing. They're going to test before they arrive on campus and test shortly after they arrive on campus. That -- using testing will really prevent us from having to go remote or -- and it will avoid kind of these lockdown situations.

I think the more we test, the more information we have, the better we can adjust our lives around this pandemic.

REID: Now, Dr. Fauci suggested that a rough winter of COVID could actually help create some form of immunity through vaccination or infection, or both. Look, the idea of a rough winter -- as Laura noted, it's been a rough two years. Do you agree that a bad few months could ultimately help in the long run?

CIOE-PENA: So, I think it could. I think it's different saying that it's an observation versus that's what should happen. I still think we should avoid getting infected. I think we should all get our boosters and get vaccinated if we're on the fence about that.

But certainly, the more that this virus is exposed to us like the previous guest said in that record -- in that -- in that talk, we're going to get more and more used to it. Our bodies are going to get more and more used to it and it's going to cause much less severe infection as we move through these waves of COVID.

It's becoming like I -- like they said, endemic, and it really will just be like the flu season. It'll be much less severe. Hospitals really won't feel it as much as they do now. And we'll get back to normal life.

REID: Doctor, thank you so much for joining us, and good luck with everything you do. We appreciate it.

JARRETT: Thank you, Doctor.

CIOE-PENA: Thanks so much.

JARRETT: Well, a shortage of rental cars is adding to the holiday travel pain. The return of leisure travel left companies like Avis and Hertz flat-footed. Remember, they sold off their inventories earlier in the pandemic and they're now having trouble ramping up their fleets.

The average price to rent a car is over 30 percent higher than this time last year. That amounts to about $81.00 a day.

REID: Whew, your friendly neighborhood superhero sure hit a nice stride.


Clip from "Spider-Man: No Way Home."

(END VIDEO CLIP) REID: Marvel's latest film "Spider-Man: No Way Home" is the first movie of the pandemic era to break the billion-dollar mark. It only took 12 days. The film is a bright spot in a dark year for movie theaters. Sales down about 60 percent from 2019.

Now, depending on the track of COVID, we'll see if movie studios stick with more releases on streaming services, which could further hurt those traditional movie houses.

JARRETT: I don't know about you, Paula. I'm still not ready to go back to a theater.


JARRETT: There's just so much good stuff at home to stream.

REID: I know. It's comfortable.

JARRETT: There's so much good content right now.

REID: Yes, I agree, completely.

JARRETT: All right.

Later today, President Biden is joining his coronavirus response team as they discuss with many of the nation's governors what's happening right now. It's a sign of Omicron's rapid spread across the country and at the top of the president's agenda right now. Despite what he may have wished, other pressing concerns are on the back burner but not forgotten, including Build Back Better.

REID: In a new op-ed in "The Washington Post" today, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus urges immediate steps, writing, "Take executive action -- taking executive action will also make clear to those who hinder Build Back Better that the White House and Democrats will deliver for Americans."

Now, CNN's Jeremy Diamond has more from the White House.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Good morning, Laura and Paula.

With coronavirus cases skyrocketing across the country and pictures and images of those long testing lines around the country around the holiday season, President Biden today will meet with his coronavirus response team. And he's actually going to join them for a call with governors around the country, a sign of the extent to which this White House is really trying to step up its response to the coronavirus pandemic in the face of this wave of cases spurred on by the Omicron variant.


So we know now that President Biden has already been sending some emergency response teams to help hospitals overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, including mobilizing as many as 1,000 military service members to help those overwhelmed hospitals.

There's also, of course, that plan to send 500 million tests to Americans who request them, to their homes. But that's not happening until early next year.

And so, the president is sure to face a lot of questions from these local officials and governors on this call slated for later this morning.

Meanwhile, Christmas -- it came and went. President Biden still doesn't have that central piece of his domestic policy agenda that he's looking for. That's the Build Back Better act, of course. He had aimed to get it done Christmas. Instead, Sen. Joe Manchin's decision not to support it, pushing that off into 2022.

Conversations are set to be ongoing in terms of how to get Sen. Manchin back on board and there's discussion in the Democratic Caucus about exactly how to get that done.

MIKE EMANUEL, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Are Democrats open to scaling it back even more or passing various pieces as standalones, maybe attracting Sen. Manchin or even some GOP on some of these issues?

SEN. BEN CARDIN, (D-MD): Well, that's a strategy decision that's being negotiated and we are open to a way to reach the finish line and we want to make it as comprehensive as possible because the needs are just there.

DIAMOND (on camera): Now, there does appear to be a bit of a holiday pause underway as Democratic legislators and White House officials regroup to try and figure out exactly how they can get this bill passed and what strategy will serve them best.

President Biden, for his part -- he remains optimistic. He said last week that he believes he can still get large chunks of that bill passed and he plans to continue to try to get as much of it as he possibly can, saying that he believes the stakes are too high.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, for his part, says that Democrats in the Senate will, indeed, vote on that Build Back Better act in the early part of the year. He has not yet officially scheduled that vote, though -- Laura, Paula.


JARRETT: Jeremy Diamond at the White House. Thank you.

We'll be right back.



JARRETT: A Christmas security breach for Britain's royal family. An armed intruder was arrested Saturday at Windsor Castle while Queen Elizabeth was there. A crossbow was recovered on-site.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us live from London. Salma, good morning. Police are saying the man here has been detained under the mental health act. What more are you learning?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Laura, shocking news -- on Christmas morning police responding to an intruder breaking onto Windsor Castle grounds. Now, security procedures were triggered within a matter of minutes, so this suspect wasn't able to get near any buildings. He was simply on the grounds when police arrived around 8:30 local time. He was arrested.

We understand he's a 19-year-old from South Hampton. He was arrested on suspicion of intrusion and possession of an offensive weapon. That weapon, of course, being the crossbow that you mentioned.

Now, we understood later that he underwent a mental health assessment and that's when authorities say that mental health issues did become an apparent part of this incident. And they have now arrested this man -- this 19-year-old suspect under the country's mental health act.

Now, it's not the first time the queen has dealt with an intruder. Of course, this is Christmas morning, so unusual circumstances there. But there's that famous episode in 1982. A man broke into the queen's bedroom and stood over here while she was sleeping. The queen, of course, recovering from this -- that incident and this one.

She continued, of course, her Christmas plans at Windsor Castle but it comes at a really difficult time, Laura. This is a year that the queen is celebrating without her husband, Prince Philip, for the first time. He passed away in April.

It's also a year where she's had to cancel her own Christmas plans. She was scheduled to go to the Norfolk estate -- what she traditionally does -- but this year, stayed behind because of the spread of the Omicron variant.

But again, the family in good spirits and celebrating at Windsor Castle on Christmas Day as planned -- Laura.

JARRETT: We're certainly glad she's OK. Salma, thank you.

REID: Now to a remarkable story about a group of talented young scientists who became the face of Afghanistan's progress in girls' education after their harrowing escape from the country during the fall of Kabul. Now, the girls' robotics team found safe haven in Mexico.

CNN spoke to team members about their fears for their families and what comes next. CNN's Matt Rivers has the story.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just four years ago, the half-dozen girls from Afghanistan strode confidently into competition, waving their country's flag. The global robotics competition, held in the U.S., was a chance to

show what so many in their country doubted -- that girls can accomplish anything. And accomplish they did, winning an award for, quote, "Courageous Achievement" given to teens who persevere through trying circumstances.

So much has changed since then. In a matter of months this year, the Taliban swept back across Afghanistan, toppling city after city -- a mortal threat to girls like those on the robotics team -- educated, progressive -- the exact opposite of how the Taliban believed women should be.

And so, five of the original team made the decision to flee in a harrowing journey. They went from Herat, Afghanistan to Kabul. There, they managed to get on one of the last commercial flights before the Taliban took the city. From there, Islamabad, Pakistan was next, eventually followed by Doha, Qatar, then Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Mexico City.

Landing in the Mexican capital where the government here has allowed them to stay while they figure out what's next, it's here in the city that we got a chance to meet in person.


RIVERS (on camera): Come on in, guys.

RIVERS (voice-over): Safe in Mexico, their first thoughts are, of course, about home and the cruelty of the Taliban regime.

FATENMAH QADERYAN, CAPTAIN, AFGHAN GIRLS ROBOTIC TEAM: The rule of their government is just mockery and insult to Islam, while Islam is the religion of kindness. We kindly request not only the United States but the entire international community to eradicate the Taliban generation from Afghanistan.

RIVERS (voice-over): They know that the U.S. has limited options in that regard after its withdrawal and terrible situation for those opposed to the Taliban. They also know how lucky they were to get out.


SAGHAR SALEHI, AFGHAN GIRLS ROBOTIC TEAM: It was really hard to, you know, leave all our beloved ones in Afghanistan. But we are happy that today we are safe -- but not only because of ourselves, but here we can be the voice of thousands of girls who want to be safe in Afghanistan and who want to continue their education and come -- and make their dreams become true.

RIVERS (voice-over): A dwindling reality for girls in that country. In the weeks and months after the Taliban took over, their subsequent actions have reaffirmed a return to a society where women are treated as wholly unequal to men. Still, the team has a message for those left behind.

KAWSAR ROSHAN, AFGHAN GIRLS ROBOTICS TEAM: So, my message and my message to my generation is that to please don't lose your hope, your spirit wherever in Afghanistan you are. I know it's difficult because I'm an Afghan girl, too, and I fully understand you. But please don't lose your spirit. There is always light in the height of darkness. And just make your dream and follow your dream and believe that one day your dream will come true -- because I experienced that.

RIVERS (on camera): And we asked all of the girls what do you want to do next, both in the near future and in the long-term future? All four girls that we spoke to tell us they do plan on going to college somewhere, hopefully, in the United States. They say as for the long- term future, they all have hopes to return to Afghanistan someday.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.


JARRETT: Matt, thank you. That's a great story.

Two more college bowl games canceled because of COVID, and another is looking for a new team. Carolyn Manno has this morning's Bleacher Report. Carolyn, this is getting messy.


College football's bowl season really heats up this week. Eighteen games were supposed to be played between now and Friday's playoff semifinals. Two of them lost because of this latest surge in cases.

Rosters are just depleted, impacting today's Military Bowl between Boston College and East Carolina, and Wednesday's inaugural Fenway Bowl between Virginia and SMU. The Hawaii Bowl was supposed to be played on Christmas Eve but that was lost as well.

COVID-19 also preventing the Miami Hurricanes from fielding a team in the Sun Bowl. Officials say they're hoping to find a new team to face Washington State in El Paso on Friday.

Meantime, the NHL is set to return from its COVID hiatus tomorrow, but three more games have had to be postponed. The league and its players' union have agreed to taxi squads and emergency call-ups to help bolster rosters affected by the virus.

In the NFL, five teams clinching playoff spots on Sunday. The Chiefs earning the AFC West crown, and the Cowboys won the NFC East. And the defending champion Buccaneers wrapping up the NFC South. The Rams and Cardinals also clinching playoff berths.

Dallas clinched before taking the field on Sunday night but the Cowboys did not take their foot off the gas -- no way. Head coach Mike McCarthy made it clear that there are bigger goals at hand if the Super Bowl is in play, mainly landing the number-one seed in the NFC.

And Dak Prescott threw four touchdown passes in the first half alone. The Cowboys won by 42 points, the biggest demolition job in the history of a divisional rivalry. Frustration boiling over for Washington on the other sideline.

Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne had to be separated after Allen took a swing at his former Alabama teammate.

Washington clinching its fourth-straight losing season. They are a mess.

Joe Burrow and the Bengals had a career day against the Ravens. The second-year quarterback throwing for 525 yards, a new franchise record. He also threw four touchdown passes in the 41-21 rout. Cincinnati taking over first place in the AFC North. The team closing in on its first playoff berth since 2015.

And Laura and Paula, I know you love a good halftime show, and the one organized by the Vikings during their game with the Rams on Sunday is up there for me. This is a corgi race at US Bank Stadium. Oh, and by the way, the dogs were wearing Christmas costumes with little mini Santas on their adorable little backs.

So, 12 good boys and girls lining up on the 40-yard line, taking off down the field. They met their owners in the end zone. I'm calling this a photo finish-ish because it's a little bit confusing who won or lost.

But, I mean, look at this. This is adorable. Come on.


JARRETT: -- run into each other.

MANNO: Yes. They were -- they were kind of just making loops and circles going back to their owners. But, hey, you know what? Minnesota fans ended up losing to the Rams, like we said, but at least they had this.

JARRETT: It's still entertaining. Love it.

All right, Carolyn, thank you. Appreciate it.

Finally for you this morning, an Atlanta UPS driver went the extra mile for a new mom and made a new friend. Jessica Kitchel was at home. She was exhausted with a newborn baby when she received this video caught on her doorbell camera.


DALLEN HARRELL, UPS EMPLOYEE: If this is the "it's a boy" house who had the -- I forget the name of the bird -- I hope all is going well with your newborn. I had a child around the same time you guys did and I just hope everything is going good. God bless and happy holiday.



REID: Aww. Well, Kitchel was so touched by the message she posted it to social media where it was viewed thousands of times. Days later, Kitchel and the driver, Dallen Harrell, finally met.


JESSICA KITCHEL, NEW MOM: So I asked him if he had a baby registry that he could share with us. And him and his fiance had not had a baby shower.


JARRETT: So, Kitchel posted another video of their meeting on Instagram and linked to his baby registry. And since then, he says he's received multiple packages a day, mostly from strangers.


HARRELL: I don't want it to be a one-time deal. Not a -- not a season, for sure -- a lifetime.

KITCHEL: It's just so easy right now to focus on what isn't going right. And the fact that we all got to see somebody just take a second of their day and show an easy act of kindness, that really meant a lot.


JARRETT: Harrell and Kitchel plan to introduce their baby boys to each other after the holidays.

I love that story. Remembering well how exhausting those days were and how even just someone doing a small act of kindness goes such a long way.

REID: Absolutely. It's the positive -- the happy news that we need among all the other things going on in the world.

Thanks so much for joining us. I'm Paula Reid.

JARRETT: Paula, so great to have you for the next couple of days. I'm Laura Jarrett. We leave you this morning with a performance from Christmas. The Duchess of Cambridge on the piano alongside Tom Walker at Westminster Abbey, singing "For Those Who Can't Be Here."

"NEW DAY" is next.





JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United --