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Airlines Cancel Flights During Holidays Due to Staff Shortages; COVID Cases Increasing Due to Omicron Variant of Coronavirus but Hospitalizations Increasing Less Rapidly; Man Hospitalized with COVID- 19 Discusses Recovering and Importance of Getting Vaccinated. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired December 24, 2021 - 08:00   ET



RABBI ANNE BRENER, AUTHOR, "MORNING AND MITZVAH, WALKING THE MOURNER'S PATH": The end of grief is peace, compassionate, and then action, action grounded in compassion.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I did not know that broader history and meaning of the world "Shalom." I'm learning something this morning.

Father Beck, one struggle, I imagine, is that fewer people are going to church, to temple, to worship these days. Like with many institutions, right, folks are retreating over time. And I wonder how you as people of faith break through that to get the message through, right, as people come less often to hear that message.

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, Jim, there is no supply chain shortage of love and compassion. And I think that what we're trying to say to people is you have a social responsibility, if you do gather, Christian churches, many are gathering this evening. And some are still not requiring vaccination, which I disagree with. I think for part of caring from one another, the dictum of Jesus, who we celebrate his birth, is love one another, show compassion, show mercy to each other. Sending the message is that if we want to act like Jesus in these kinds of times, we take care of each other. If we gather in celebration, we have to do so safely, comfortably, and we have to give to one another that gift of peace. And part of that is health and feeling like we're gathering in a healthy environment.

And so I really hope as people gather in celebration, to celebrate the birth of Christ, who was about mercy, and compassion, and love of one another, that we keep that in mind. It's not about us. I don't think there is a reason to say I'm not going to get vaccinated today, maybe a health reason, but then you can't come to church. We have services with other people right now. We have a responsibility to one another.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Father Edward Beck, Rabbi Anne Brener, really appreciate you both joining us this morning. Thank you.

BECK: Thank you, both.

BRENER: Thank you.

HILL: And NEW DAY continues right now.

Good Friday morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Friday, December 24th. Merry Christmas Eve. I'm Erica Hill along with Jim Sciutto. John and Brianna are off this morning.

Well, time running out for holiday shoppers. I'm looking at you, Jim Sciutto. But there is a bigger can concern for many this morning. And the reality is it's this omicron surge. It has now grounded hundreds of flights. Carriers struggling with a shortage of flight crews and operations staff. Airlines, meantime, asking the CDC to shorten the isolation period for workers who have been exposed to COVID, just part of what they think could help deal with that staffing shortage.

If this sounds familiar, it should. The CDC just made a similar concession for healthcare workers, saying that those who test positive but are asymptomatic can now return to work after seven days with a negative test instead of 10.

SCIUTTO: That's some of the good news out there on Omicron. Omicron has now pushed COVID numbers, at least, new infections higher than the peak of the Delta variant last summer. The average, daily average of new cases topping 182,000. Here in Washington, D.C., COVID cases have broken the previous record. They have seen a 400 percent increase over the last seven days.

But this is the more critical number here, and that is hospitalizations. And so far, there has not been a big jump in hospitalizations. It means people are not getting seriously ill in large numbers. We'll be watching the data to see if it stays that way.

Another dose of good news. There's a new weapon in the nation's COVID fighting arsenal. The FDA has approved a second antiviral COVID pill, this one from Merck, designed to keep people from getting seriously ill and ending up in the hospital.

Let's talk, though, about what is happening with all those flights. CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean, he's live at Reagan National Airport. So cancellations, three percent to nine percent. That could cause some problems during busy travel times.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No doubt, Jim, especially given the fact that millions of people are still traveling even in spite of the Omicron variant. Airlines are now saying, though, that is causing problems. These uptick in cases is leading to staffing shortages at airlines, which is leading to cancellations of flights. Just look at the latest numbers from Flight Aware, about 169 cancellations at United Airlines today so far, 124 at Delta Airlines. And according to a memo we obtained from United Airlines, United says this is impacting its flight crews and operational staff at the airline.

This is what it says in a statement, "We have unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of coming to the airport." United says, "We're sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays."


This is coming as we have seen long lines at airports across country. In fact, yesterday, was to be one of the busiest days of the holiday travel season, and the TSA says it screened 2.19 million people in airports across the country just yesterday. That's the highest number we have seen since the Monday after Thanksgiving, and the highest number we have seen on this long stretch of busy days at airports, nearly 2 million people or more for a week straight, and the TSA projects it will screen another 20 million people in airports across the country between now and January 3rd. That's when everybody begins coming home all at once, Jim.

SCIUTTO: People Muntean, thanks so much for keeping track of it all.

HILL: Let's take a closer look at the COVID situation on the ground. We have two doctors battling this recent surge in cases in their respective cities. Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena is an emergency room physician at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City. And in Washington, D.C., Dr. James Phillips is assistant professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University hospital. It's good to have both of you with us.

We are seeing a pretty sharp increase in cases not just nationally, but in both of your cities respectively. Up over 100 percent in New York City. But I have to say, this struck me, up 386 percent in Washington, D.C. And Dr. Philips I know you say you're really seeing this firsthand this in the waiting room, in the emergency room, waiting area, people are there longer, you just don't have the staff to care for folks.

DR. JAMES PHILLIPS, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Yes, good morning. And that's absolutely right. What we're seeing is not just an unprecedented upward slope in the new cases that are happening in cities along the northeastern seaboard, including Washington, D.C., but compounding that, we're seeing a real lack of staff. We have entered into what I think will be called the great nursing shortage of 2021. So while we have this increase in patients, and many of whom are less sick than perhaps they would have been if they had Delta, the problem is the wait times are higher. And that's not just for COVID patients, but for people with non-COVID reasons why they came to the emergency department. And so it is compounding our problems, making patients angry, and leading to patients leaving without being seen, which can be very detrimental to their health.

SCIUTTO: One silver lining in this, at least so far, Dr. Cioe-Pena, is that hospitalizations have not jumped in line with new infections. I believe we have a graph we can put on the screen that compares the two numbers, but the seven-day average of new coronavirus infections as compared to 14-day average of new coronavirus hospitalizations, there are the new infections, you compare that to the new hospitalizations, it is ticking up, but it's not jumping like you're seeing with new infections. Do you see hope in that in terms of Omicron's seriousness, but also the potential burden on hospital and hospital staff?

DR. ERIC CIOE-PENA, DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH AT NORTHWELL HEALTH: Yes, I think that's a really good point to make, is that we're in a much different position than we were one year ago when we didn't have the protection of the vaccine to really blunt the seriousness of what it meant to have a COVID diagnosis. And we are seeing that although the case rates in New York are exponential, still less than one in five patients in one of our hospitals is a COVID patient. And that's a very different position going into the new year than we were a year ago.

HILL: In Washington, Mayor Bowser told us yesterday here on NEW DAY that really there is a significant increase among 25 to 34-year-olds, that age group in Washington, D.C. Mask mandates just went back into effect there, vaccine mandates for indoor gatherings, spaces, bars, restaurants, have been announced. Those will start to go into effect in about two weeks. Dr. Phillips, how much of a difference do you think the measures will make?

PHILLIPS: Remains to be seen. I don't blame the current surge that we see in Washington, D.C. on the temporary relief of the mask mandate that we had recently. I think that it's a perfect storm where that happened to occur during a time where a new variant has emerged and people are gathering.

I think that it's absolutely right, anecdotally in my last few shifts in the emergency department, the overwhelming majority of patients are young. Here in Washington, D.C., we have done a great job of vaccinating, 86 percent of our people over the age of 65 are vaccinated. Almost 70 percent of our total population is vaccinated. It's those who are having breakthrough cases and those who chose not to get vaccinated or were unable that we're really worried about, and most of those patients that we have seen so far are going home. So let's keep our fingers crossed that that trend continues.

SCIUTTO: The numbers, they're not minorly different. The difference between the percentage of people vaccinated who get seriously ill and unvaccinated is just dramatic. You just hope that breaks through. Dr. Cioe-Pena, just looking at how folks are reacting to omicron, you have the president, you have health officials saying keep your holiday plans if you're vaccinated. That's different from last year.


But you also see a city like New York, it's going ahead with the New Year's Eve celebrations. Small than originally planned, but still a major public gathering. Do you think that's a good idea?

CIOE-PENA: I think that we have to find a balance between the complete interruption of life that we saw in 2020 and these modified measures. New Year's Eve is traditionally outdoors, an outdoor even in New York. That already makes it low risk. There is a vaccine requirement to be in the crowd. So I think these smart kind of measures to make sure that we're continuing on with life, we're continuing to not allow this virus to paralyze us is -- are smart, because we really are, I think, weighing the risks and benefits. And I don't think that this event is going to be a super spreader

event. I think that a lot of the things we're seeing spread are really kind of close contact with people that we know.

HILL: Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena, Dr. James Phillips, thank you both for joining us this morning. Thanks for all that you are doing on a daily basis and especially over the holidays to help care for so many. Appreciate it.

CIOE-PENA: Thanks for having us.

HILL: A Virginia man who documented his battle with COVID-19 while hospitalized for a month is urging Americans to take a different road than he initially did, begging them to get vaccinated. Take a listen. This is when he joined us from his hospital bed back in August.


TRAVIS CAMPBELL, SPENT NEARLY A MONTH IN ICU WITH COVID-19: The easiest thing is getting COVID. The hardest thing is finding a bed, finding oxygen, and trying to breathe like a fish in water. I'm so sorry that I made the mistake to be negligent and not get vaccinated. Vaccinations are so important. And I can do better as a parent, as a human.


HILL: Travis Campbell is now back home with his family. They have all been vaccinated. He said he plans to get a booster shot as soon as he is eligible. And Travis joins us again this morning. Good to see you there at home, smiling. Much better than seeing you in a hospital bed, Travis.

CAMPBELL: Yes, it is great to be on this side, and those that watched our videos know that I was referring to the earthly side than the spiritual side. So it is phenomenal, and it's tough to watch those videos. I still yet watched those videos, it immediately brings tears to my eyes. But thank you.

HILL: We're happy to have you back and certainly happy to see you doing much better. Hard to watch those videos, but your message has been so important. I know that since you got out of the hospital, this is your mission now, right, that you want to share your story with as many people as possible. You have a unique voice here. What has the reaction been?

CAMPBELL: It has been great. It has been supportive. My family, my friends, local community, and then now, you know, we have been on the world news a couple of times, and with you all, and it has just been amazing. But, yes, it is a high priority to reach out to American and human population to explain what we went through and what I went through and experiencing what I'm still experiencing with all the symptoms and everything, and to let people understand that there is a value to life that you need to evaluate some of your decisions, because if you get to the COVID as I did, and spend all the time in the hospital, not only do you take a risk of dying, and not only do you take a risk of financially ruining your family, but the extended problems that your body is going to have, such as organ failures, heart failure, lung damage, and you're going to continue to fight it.

So it's not a virus. And that's what I'm trying to get out to everybody. It is not like the stomach bug where you go back to work in three days. It's a virus that stays with you. It's damaging. And so therefore, I'm trying to get the message out to people that it is very important that we get vaccinated. And it's time to celebrate the pills that was recently approved for Pfizer and the one yesterday. And, man, how awesome is that?

HILL: It is. It's remarkable, as we've heard from so many doctors, especially, to have these two tools. But we hear in the same breath in no way are they a replacement for the vaccine. There are a number of people who have decided not to get the vaccine, because they say I already had COVID, I have the antibodies. You had COVID. You're still dealing with some of it, but you chose to get vaccinated. Why?

CAMPBELL: Absolutely. And that was our exact mentality, that we had it prior and our antibodies looks good. And so it is, sort of referring back to the stomach bug, once you have it, you're not going to have it again.


Well, that's not true one, with COVID.

The second reason we got vaccinated is because that's our duty as Americans, and humans to make sure that we're contributing and protecting our family and that's what I did not do. And, you know, I definitely regret that.

So preparing for our future strains of the COVID-19 and doing our part with the vaccinations was a very, very easy decision, based on what I went through in the hospital. I knew as soon as I got out, that was one of my main goals was to get vaccinated, and I'm very thankful today to tell you that we are fully vaccinated as a family.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Which is great news. I know when you spoke with Brianna last, you were really concerned you may not be there for your daughter, to walk her down the aisle.

You are here this morning. You posted on Facebook, this Christmas means so much to me this year, more than it did when I was a kid.

How does it feel this morning to sit here, to talk about it, to talk about how you feel, how much better you're doing now to know you're here for your family?

CAMPBELL: It feels great. It feels great. I'm thankful.

I have high expectations for this Christmas season personally. Because of everything I went through, a lot of the family still haven't seen since I was in the hospital, but really looking forward to that. It does mean so much more than the tree, the gifts, the food. And it is just such a reward. Definitely difficult battle to try to get to this day, but it means so

much, being around family and friends and understanding the gift is not the one that is right. The gift is being able to breathe, being able to stay above ground. And enjoy your family, your friends, and, you know, prepare, and so it is definitely a special holiday for me.

HILL: It is beautiful to hear you say all that. I'm wondering, is there a message you have for folks who may be concerned moving forward? Maybe deciding to get the vaccine. If you're having a conversation with someone one on one, what do you say?

CAMPBELL: First of all, I'm going to respect some of their decisions. But I would tell you, based on what I've been through, that I made the decision to get vaccinated because I would prefer thousands of doctors, scientists, nurses, to work on a side effect if I was to have which, one I did not, none of our family did, than eight of my best friends carrying my body for my wife. That I went through, I planned my funeral.

And that's okay. I'm not telling you that as a -- I'm telling you that's how far we went through the situation. And I would never want anybody to experience that in any way. Absolutely not.

I would also tell you that if you choose not to vaccinate, ensure you're doing the vitamins, ensure you're doing antibody tests and hopefully you'll find some research. I will tell you, your children, when they went to school, they got vaccinated. And they couldn't go to school unless they got vaccinated.

So, I'm a firm believer in it. I support it 100 percent. If it would have prevented me from going to the hospital, of which the studies now show that vaccinations, 88 percent of people that are vaccinated are not hospitalized and the ones that are hospitalized, 90 percent are unvaxxed. And so that's a huge staggering number.

HILL: It is.

CAMPBELL: So hopefully this holiday season we can really rally together and make some huge decisions to do our part and get vaccinated.

HILL: Well, you're certainly doing you're part. You're right, the vaccines are doing what they were designed to do, prevent severe illness and death, ideally keep you out of the hospital and keep you here, firmly planted on the ground, in this world.

Travis Campbell, merry Christmas. Great to see you this morning.

CAMPBELL: Merry Christmas. Thank you so much.

HILL: Coming up, ex-officer Kim Potter found guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright. Just ahead, Daunte Wright's mother joins us live.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCOHR: Plus, a TSA agent leapt into action to save a baby's life at the airport. It's really worth watching this. First, NASA ready to launch its most powerful space telescope ever,

even more powerful than Hubbell. More on the fascinating discoveries that could lead to coming up.



SCIUTTO: All right, want to hear this story. NASA's biggest and most powerful space telescope ever is poised for liftoff on what better day, Christmas day.

It costs about $10 billion. The James Webb space telescope could help us understand the origins of the universe and answer key questions about human existence.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson joins us now.

Good to have you on, sir. So the thing about this, I think for framing, this helped me a lot, this -- it is not only looks great distances, right, but it also looks through time. It looks back as far as 13 billion years because of its capabilities.

Tell us the importance of that in terms of understanding the universe.

BILL NELSON, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: It's 100 times more powerful than the Hubbell space telescope, it has brought all this revelation, yes. It is a time machine, Jim. It looks back and captures the light, shortly after the big bang and that's over 13 billion years ago, that that light in the formation of the first galaxy has been traveling to us.

And then it is going to look at stars in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. And we know we identified planets that go around the stars with Hubbell.

Now we're going to be able to focus in on those planets, and determine the can chemical composition of that atmosphere and see if it is a similar habitable atmosphere to our own.

SCIUTTO: That was going to be my next question, the portion of this that is about looking for other life, in the universe, or other places where life could be.

NELSON: Well, that's exactly right. That's what we're doing right now on mars, getting samples to see if there are building blocks of life. We're going to have those samples returned.

We're doing this with other planets as well. We have got a mission going to Venus right now to do the same thing. So this is an exciting time for not only America but also for planet earth and this is an international mission. Europeans and the Canadians are our partners on this mission.

SCIUTTO: Hubbell, of course, was revolutionary in our understanding of the universe for scientists, but also for average people, right? Because you and I -- well, you're in the an average person, but people like me, I got to see stuff far away and in this -- in this enormous detail that showed you the beauty and the extent, the extent of things.


I wonder, can you describe to folks at home, beyond the scientific discoveries there, what they're going to be able to see and how they're going to be able to enjoy this.

NELSON: You're going to be seeing the birth of a star, a long time ago, you're going to be seeing the formation of a galaxy. You're going to be opening up to us and understanding of what this universe is. What is our place in it? How did we come to where we are, who are we?

It is going to open up a whole new encyclopedia of information of who we are.

SCIUTTO: Before we go, you're t administrator of NASA, this telescope is going to look far farther than any human being could dream of traveling, right? But does man and woman, does human space travel matter as much in all this? Is that still in your view an important part, a central part of NASA's mission? My gut is I want to see folks go as far as they can. Is that -- is that an essential part of space exploration going forward?

NELSON: Well, that's just a part of it. It is one thing for a robot, a machine, to examine something. It is another thing for the human being to real time make human decisions about what we're looking at.


NELSON: And what we are trying to do is to understand who we are, how do we fit into this great cosmos. Isn't it interesting at Christmas that we're talking about this, looking up in the stars at the very beginning of time, and, a high risk operation. There are 344 things that could go wrong if any one of them on this telescope, but we're very confident.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. Well, the star played a role on Christmas day, as I remember. If you ever need someone to join folks on one of those trips up there, just, you know, call me up. I'm always game.

NELSON: We're taking applicants for NASA astronauts.

SCIUTTO: All right, I'll be filling mine in during the break. NASA administrator Bill Nelson, thanks so much for coming on. We wish you a very merry Christmas.

NELSON: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: As you know, jury has found a former police officer guilty of manslaughter. Two counts in Daunte Wright's deadly shooting. Wright's mother speaks out on the verdict live on this broadcast next.

HILL: Also more on the CDC's new rules for healthcare workers who test positive for COVID. What's changing?