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COVID Issues Force Texas A&M to Bow Out of Gator Bowl; Biden on Omicron Testing Shortages, Nothing's Been Good Enough; Biden Says Potential Run Against Trump Increases Desire to Run in 2024. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired December 23, 2021 - 07:00   ET



ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, yes, you can add the Gator Bowl to the long lists of sports events that have been affected by COVID this month. This is the first college football ball game that's in jeopardy because of the virus. Aggies Head Coach Jimbo Fisher says he doesn't have enough players to fill the team due to COVID. And Texas A&M's A.D. telling ESPN the team down 38 scholarship players right now because of the virus. And A&M's opponent, Wake Forest, it's working with officials to find another team to play. Rutgers and Illinois are possible replacements. The game is a week from tomorrow.

Now, the College Football Playoffs Management Committee meanwhile making plans to cover potential issues caused by COVID-19. And this year's national champion could be decided without playing a game. Alabama is set to take on Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl. Michigan is going to face Georgia in the Orange Bowl. If any of those four teams can't play on New Year's Eve, they are going to forfeit, and the other teams are going to move on. Same goes for the national championship game January 10th in Indianapolis. But the committee does say the title game could be pushed back to no later than January 14th if needed.

All right, finally, check this out. Ms. Fitz forever a hero after that shot, so she promised the third grade class all hot chocolate if she made it. Nothing but net, an all-time great schoolyard, John, moment. And you can just see it. Those kids are going to remember that forever. They're going to be at high school graduation and say, remember the time that Ms. Fitz hit that shot and we got hot chocolate. It's so cool.

BERMAN: Those kids were cheering so well. Teachers are awesome.

ERICA HILL, CNN NEW DAY: They are. That, they are.

SCHOLES: She was even jumping down, raise their heads. That was so cool.

HILL: I mean, you make a shot like that, you should jump up and down. Someone should get her a hot chocolate.

SCHOLES: I mean, she had great form, it's like she knew it right out of her hands.

BERMAN: I do like, Andy Scholes, the high school graduation imitations where he makes all the high school graduates seem like 68 years old, having smoked four packs a day for 30 years.

SCHOLES: That's not how high schoolers sound these days? Hey, Johnny.

HILL: It's totally how it was when I graduated.

BERMAN: Andy, have a wonderful holiday. Thank you.

SCHOLES: You too.

HILL: New Day continues right now.

BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Thursday, December 23rd. I'm John Berman. Brianna is off. Erica Hill joins me this morning. I am wearing my Christmas tie. There's the candy canes stripe right there. I'm ready.

HILL: I love a good Christmas time. I'm glad you're ready.

BERMAN: All right. Millions of Americans are hitting the road today, one of the busiest days during this holiday travel period. It comes as the wildly contagious omicron variant is spreading in ways that other COVID strains have not. Just three weeks after it was first identified in the U.S., omicron is now in all 50 states and it accounts for 90 percent of the country's new cases.

COVID testing lines are still very long nationwide. President Biden, in an interview with ABC News, denied that the shortage of COVID tests is a failure but admits the administration has struggled to meet the demand.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: No, I don't think it's a failure. I think it's -- you could argue that we should have known a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you get it wrong?

BIDEN: How did I get it wrong? Nobody saw it coming, nobody in the whole world. Who saw it coming?


HILL: There are several positive developments to report. Among them, a new pill to fight COVID-19. The FDA authorizing Pfizer's Paxlovid antiviral pill. Now, this is a five-day course that would treat COVID and could significantly cut the risk of hospitalization or death for high-risk Americans as young as 12.

Meantime, three new early studies from overseas suggests a lower risk of hospitalization for those infected with the omicron variant if you compare it to delta infections. And Vice President Kamala Harris, we're learning, has tested negative after close contact with an aide who contracted COVID. In all, nine members of Congress as of this morning have tested positive in just the past week. The latest is 81-year-old James Clyburn. The House majority whip says he is fully vaccinated, he is boosted, has no symptoms. But like so many people, get this, it took the Democratic leader days, 56 hours, in fact, to get his test results.

Let's bring in now CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. So, Elizabeth, President Biden says testing isn't a failure but is acknowledging nothing has been good enough. I mean, these shortages are really something. Can those two both be true at the same time?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, testing has just been a problem really since the beginning. And let's be clear, we're not going to test our way out of this pandemic but, wow, it sure could help. The president said we didn't see omicron coming.


And one could say, well, but even without omicron, testing was important. And, really, we should have maybe seen that a variant was going to come our way that would throw us for a loop.

Now, in order for test to really help, you need a lot of tests. Let's take a listen to Admiral Dr. Brett Giroir, he was the head of testing under the Trump administration.


ADMIRAL BRETT GIROIR (RET.), FORMER HHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HEALTH: Unless we have a billion or two billion a month, I think we're still going to have to be selective to make sure that we keep people who can die from the disease from dying from the disease.


COHEN: Erica, I think the part of the problem is that testing sort of took a backseat during the summer and fall when delta was raging. And now they really need to gear things back up. Erica?

HILL: Yes, for sure. Let's talk a little bit about this pill, Paxlovid, from Pfizer, that would treat COVID-19. How well does this work?

COHEN: It works really well. But you have to take it really quite quickly, within five days of having symptoms. That means, and here we're going to talk about testing again, you have to recognize you have the symptoms, you have to find a place to get tested, which we have seen is tough, you've got to call your doctor, they have got to call in a prescription.

But if all that works, here's how well it works. In the clinical trials where people did get it within five days, when they did a clinical trial, half the people got a placebo, half the people got Paxlovid. The folks who got a placebo, 66 of them ended up in the hospital with COVID-19 12 of them died. When they got Paxlovid, only eight of them ended up in the hospital and none of them died. That is really very impressive results.

Let's take a look at distribution. Because as we've seen during this pandemic, drugs for COVID-19, they're distributed by the government, not always as quickly as we would like. So, the White House says they have purchased 10 million courses of treatment, in other words, enough to treat 10 million people. And then in January, 265,000 courses will be available. By late summer, Jeff Zients, the head of the COVID effort for the Biden administration, says the full amount will be available. Utah put out a press release saying they expect 440 courses of treatment in the initial allocation. That's how small it looks like these initial allocations will be. That's just enough for 440 people. We don't know when that initial allocation will be and we don't know when the next allocation will be exactly. Erica?

HILL: And as we keep hearing, it's great and it works really well but it's not a replacement for a vaccine. Lastly, for kids who are under five obviously not yet eligible to be vaccinated, we know Pfizer said they need to work on a different dose in some of their trials they said last week. So, it could be a bit longer before we see a vaccine for them. How much concern is there about the holidays for this group of kids?

COHEN: You know, thank goodness, children represent a very small percentage of COVID cases and an even smaller percentage of hospitalizations and deaths. Having said that, you know, I think there is a reason, particularly if your child has any kind of, you know, medical issue or underlying immune problem, then you do want to protect your children. They are still vulnerable to COVID-19.

Unfortunately, the clinical trials for this group, there were some issues with the dosing. It's unclear exactly what dose needs to be given exactly at what age. And so we're not expect to go see results submitted to the FDA until well into next year. Erica?

HILL: Elizabeth Cohen, I appreciate it as always. Thank you.

COHEN: Thanks.

HILL: In Ohio, people infected with the omicron are now overwhelming area hospitals to the point that several Cleveland hospitals banded together to place this full page ad in a local paper. Take a look. It sums it up in one word, help. And in the fine print you see there, we've highlighted it for you, it reads, we need your help. We now have more COVID-19 patients in our hospitals than ever before and the overwhelming majority are unvaccinated.

Joining me now is Dr. Hassan Khouli. He's the chair of critical care medicine at Cleveland Clinic, one of the hospitals that placed this ad. It is so powerful in its simplicity as we just see the stark page with the word, help. I'm wondering, do you feel like it is triggering the response that you were hoping for? Is it getting people to pay attention?

DR. HASSAN KHOULI, CHAIR OF CRITICAL CARE MEDICINE AT CLEVELAND CLINIC: Good morning. Thank you very much for including me today on your program. We do need the help. We need a lot of help from your communities. And I believe this is across the nation too. We are overwhelmed. Our ICUs, our hospitals are overwhelmed. And I will share with you some of the numbers. I know our emergency rooms have really been overcrowded because of the recent surge that we have seen with COVID-19 hospitalizations there.

And this is preventable. This is what's important. And this is why this ad, and we're all pleaing with everybody to go and get vaccinated, to get boosted if you have been vaccinated too, because we know booster is going to be more effective with this omicron variant.


As of yesterday, to put this in context, we have had over 870 hospitalized patients in Northeast Ohio in our Cleveland Clinic hospitals with COVID-19 infections. About a quarter of these patients, 26 percent of them are hospitalized in our intensive care units. These are the sickest patients there, you know? And these patients, when you look at their outcomes, about two out of ten of them, 18 percent, will not make it out of this intensive care unit alive. And this is the sad story here. If they're on a ventilator, about three to four out of ten are not going to make it out of the intensive care unit, out of the hospital alive too.

These may be numbers, but these are really human lives. These are the brothers, the sisters, the mothers, the sons, the daughters of many people, you know, around us. Some are caregivers caring for these patients there. And for that, and the fact that this is really preventable illness, we don't have to be in this situation if the majority of our people were there.

One last data to share with you, 90-plus percent of the patients we see in our intensive care units are unvaccinated. Among mechanically- ventilated patients, the sickest one, the number is even slightly higher. It is close to 92 percent are actually unvaccinated. So, we know vaccines are the way to do it.

HILL: They are. As you point out, this is all preventable in most cases, right, just by getting those shots. We know the vaccine numbers are low. We know how difficult it has been to counter some of that misinformation. But another point you're making is this is today. But there is more coming. How concerned are you about your hospitals and others in the area about your ability to handle what you have referred to as a tsunami that's coming?

KHOULI: We're quite concerned. We're already overwhelmed with the numbers that I mentioned. Just think about the situation that can continue to get worse and overwhelm actually our caregivers who have been exhausted. They have been through a lot of physical and emotional stress caring for these types of patients and supporting families during this pandemic.

So, with more numbers, we spend every minute, every hour, we have a team of people who are actually trying to figure out a way where we place patients, where we move patients from one hospital to the other, how we can uncrowd our emergency departments to care for these patients. And at the same time, our staffing ratios are already being stretched to be able to care safely for such patients that they're coming in.

So, any additional patients, even a small increase in the number of these patients, unless we do things to prevent that, and that is vaccination, social distancing and masking up, we're very concerned.

HILL: Quickly, before we let you go, I know you said morale is low among staff. There is staffing shortages, as we have heard about across the country. You said in 2020 there was hope at this point. Do you have hope at this point in 2021 that things are going to perhaps turn around a little bit in 2022, that this will encourage, perhaps, more folks to go get that shot?

KHOULI: We certainly did not expect ourselves to be in this situation a year ago. Messaging our teams, my team, about the vaccines and how we are all going to be vaccinated, our communities, where we are going to be. We are not in that situation in Ohio. We are still about 50, 55 percent of eligible populations being vaccinated there.

We do have hope. We have hope that our communities, the people who really live in this area and beyond, will hear this message and will go get vaccinated and get boosted too and be responsible during these holidays there too. So, there is absolutely hope if we listen to this message and we do the right thing here.

HILL: Dr. Hassan Khouli, I appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you for everything that you and your colleagues are doing as well and happy holidays.

KHOULI: Thank you, same to you.

HILL: Well, Joe Biden said he will run for president again if, if -- what's the if? I'm going to make you stick around for it.

And revealing new satellite images that could seriously upend the president's strategy in the Middle East. That is a CNN exclusive. That's just ahead.

BERMAN: Plus, a congresswoman carjacked at gunpoint. There was a break in the case overnight.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you plan to run for re-election?

BIDEN: Yes. But, look, I'm a great respecter of fate. Fate has intervened in my life many, many times. If I'm in the health I'm in now, if I'm in good health, then, in fact, I would run again

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if that means a rematch against Donald Trump? BIDEN: You're trying to tempt me now. Sure. Why would I not run against Donald Trump being the nominee? That may increase the prospect of running.


BERMAN: President Biden answering a question that many have been wondering on what he sees for himself in 2024.

Joining me now, Jonathan Martin, CNN Political Analyst and National Political Correspondent for The New York Times. Jonathan, I want a clinical dissection of that statement from Joe Biden. What do you see there?

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: As Joe Biden himself would say, God love him, because, once again, the president says out loud what had been widely talked about privately, John, in Democratic circles, which is, yes, it's not a sure bet that he runs again but he probably is more likely to go if Trump himself is going to run, because I think he sees himself on a mission, obviously, and first to beat Trump and keep him out of office and then to keep him out of office.

And so I think he's just saying out loud what's the old Kinsley line, Berman, about a Washington gaffe, is telling the truth.

BERMAN: Yes, exactly.


MARTIN: There you go.

BERMAN: Is there -- and you have reported on this, Jonathan, before, but is there is any if not him, who, discussion out there in Democratic circles?

MARTIN: Absolutely. I mean, look, there is I think in public an amount of deference to this president in part because he hasn't even finished his first year yet but also because he's still fairly popular among activists. And so there is no governor or senator who is going to openly say, yes, if Joe doesn't go, I'm in.

But there's no question that just under the surface if President Biden does not go, there is a lot of senators, governors, mayors potentially who would look at it. And you have got to start with the folks who have run before, John, obviously, the vice president, Secretary Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, who obviously would be tempted. If you have run for president once, you are probably tempted to run again.

BERMAN: It is interesting because Joe Biden does -- you try to think about who could span the different factions of the Democratic Party right now, and it hasn't been easy for him but he does it in ways that a lot of other people. It's hard to think of anyone else who could do it in just the same way. I want to move on to Jim Jordan, who has been asked nicely, I suppose, to testify before the January 6th committee. He hasn't given an answer yet. What do you think is going to happen here and what is the significance of Jordan here who has admit to, A, having a conversation with the president on January 6th and, B, having sent text messages to Mark Meadows talking about ways that they could get around the Electoral College?

MARTIN: Well, he basically is Trump's de facto liaison in the House that day. I mean, it's hard to think of somebody besides Kevin McCarthy, who was not as intimately involved obviously as Jordan was in trying to overturn election results, who was more central than Jim Jordan. So, I think this is going to the heart of the matter trying to get some kind of insight from Jordan.

But it also puts these members on the committee in a difficult spot, John, because if Jordan doesn't cooperate, what do you do? Do you hold your own colleague in contempt? That creates all kinds of challenges inside the body itself.

BERMAN: So, Jon, we have been getting a lot of viewer mail particularly from the Dakotas with this question, everyone asking, what is going to happen with John Thune? This is the Republican senator from South Dakota, who is the number two Republican in the Senate right now. Everyone has been asking, Jonathan, what he's going to do. Is he going to run for re-election?

Explain to us why this question is important and what the outcome will be.

MARTIN: Sure. Wlel, why it is important is two reasons. I think, one, the pure matter of succession. Obviously, Mitch McConnell will turn 80 in February and it is widely assumed he is not going to be in that spot more than the next couple of years. So, who is going to take over for McConnell?

I think the broader issue, John, is mainstream conservatives like John Thune, do they still want to serve in the Congress with President Trump as the de facto leader of the GOP. And, John, if he does not run again and retires at the age of 60, on the precipice of potentially being a leader, that's an extraordinary choice and would say a lot about the quality of life of serving in Congress and serving in congress with President Trump constantly in the shadows.

And if you just look at recent history, you can go back to 2018, there's now a long roster of mainstream conservatives who have retired rather than faced Trump-backed primary, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake in 2018 through a longer list today. And I think if Thune does retire, it would effectively put an exclamation point, John, on that list of folks in the GOP who have said, you know what, it's not worth it. I want to call it a career.

BERMAN: I secretly think you know what he is going to do or at least have a strong suspicion about what he is going to do.

MARTIN: You know, I've gone back and forth on this myself over the course of this year based on reporting in conversations. I tend (ph) right now that he is slightly more likely to run than not run, because just the possibility of being leader for any politician in a legislative body is so tempting, that it is hard to walk away from that prospect. But I think that he has tugged home for a lot of reasons. So, it's hardly a sure thing. I think it's really unclear. And my understanding is that even Senator McConnell himself has told associates, John, that he is not totally clear on what Thune is going to do. So, this is a live question going into the holidays.

BERMAN: A Christmas mystery. Jonathan Martin, thank you so much for being with us this morning. Happy holidays.

MARTIN: Thanks, John. You too, man.

BERMAN: A new vaccine mandate just announced in the nation's Capitol.


Washington D.C.'s mayor standing by to talk to us live.

HILL: Plus, Joe Biden and Jimmy Carter, the new members that tie the two presidents together.


BERMAN: China is admitting that the BEIJING WINTER OLYMPICS may result in coronavirus outbreaks, but the country says it is fully prepared, this as millions of people in a major Chinese city are now under strict stay-at-home order weeks before the games.

CNN has reporters covering the pandemic all around the world.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Selina Wang in Tokyo. The Chinese city of Xi'an and its 13 million residents have been put under strict in lockdown. The city has recorded more than 200 COVID-19 cases since December 9th. Residents are largely banned from leaving their homes. But one designated person from each household can leave once every two days to get groceries.

This is the fourth major Chinese city to go under strict lockdown. The first one was back in early 2020 when Wuhan, ground zero of the pandemic, went into strict lockdown. With the Beijing Winter Olympics less than 45 days away, China is doubling down on its zero COVID strategy.


ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: I'm Anna Stewart in London. Today is usually one of the busiest days of the year for international travel --