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Americans Facing Long Lines for COVID Tests, At-Home Kits Scarce; CDC Shortens Isolation Time for Health Care Workers With COVID; Trump Spokesman Sues 1/6 Panel to Block Financial Records. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired December 27, 2021 - 06:00   ET




JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Monday, December 27. I'm John Avlon in with Kaitlan Collins all week. Kaitlan, I hope you had a great Christmas.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: John, I hope you did too. And I wish we were in person together this morning, but I think this is the next best thing and I'm excited to anchor with you this way.

AVLON: We'll have fun all week. Thank you.

COLLINS: All right. This morning, the extraordinarily contagious Omicron coronavirus variant surging across the U.S. And Dr. Anthony Fauci warning the cases are likely to climb much higher.

Testing continues to be a major challenge. The results so far, has been around the clock lines at testing sites and shortages of at-home tests at drugstores. Many Americans are facing the possibility they'll have to scrap their New Year's plans altogether, as the number of testing opportunities dwindles ahead of the holiday. The good news, though, Dr. Fauci expects things to improve beginning next month.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: We should be using testing much more extensively than we have even in a situation where you have people who are vaccinated or boosted. We've obviously got to do better. I mean, I think things will improve greatly as we get into January, but that doesn't help us today and tomorrow.



COLLINS: As Omicron cases are surging, health experts are waiting to see if hospitalizations will too. Right now, they're about 70% less than what they were during the last peak around September. The millions of Americans who are still unvaccinated are at the greatest risk of severe illness and death from the Omicron variant. And it's those cases that could overwhelm the country's already overwhelmed health systems.

The travel industry is also taking a hit during one of the busiest times for travel. Major U.S. airlines have cancelled hundreds of flights over the holiday weekend. Staff and crew are calling out sick amid the Omicron surge. Cruise Lines are getting knocked out by a wave of new infections and alarming passengers, despite those beefed-up precautions and vaccination and testing requirements.

A Carnival cruise ship returned to Miami yesterday, after "a small number of people on board tested positive for Coronavirus" and the ship was denied entry to two ports at Caribbean islands. Let's get to CNN's Leyla Santiago who was live at a testing site in Miami with more. Leyla, what are you seeing there on this Monday morning?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, we are at one of the busiest sites here in South Florida. When we arrived around four o'clock in the morning, the line of cars already wrapped around what is a very large recreational park here in Miami Dade County.

Now the operator of this testing site tells me that compared to the last major peak, they are seeing about nearly double the demand and testing in their sites across the state right now.


SANTIAGO: New COVID cases fueled by the Omicron variant are surging across the country, causing major disruptions in long lines for airline travelers this Christmas weekend. According to FlightAware, nearly 1500 U.S. flights were canceled and more than 5000 delayed Sunday alone, making three days in a row of mass cancellations, many caused by airport and airline staff shortages.

DAVID SLOTNICK, SENIOR AVIATION BUSINESS REPORTER, "THE POINTS GUY": They have a lot more people than normal, who are calling out sick or testing positive and then who have to stay in isolation for 10 days even if they potentially feel better sooner.

DEBBIE GIBSON, TRAVELING CHRISTMAS WEEKEND: And the reason that our flight was canceled was because of lack of flight attendants. It's sad, it's just really sad.

SANTIAGO: Airlines under pressure are issuing statements. "We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans. Delta people are working hard to get them to where they need to be as quickly and as safely as possible on the next available flight."

Cruises are also facing disruption once again, at least for cruise ships were prohibited from letting passengers disembark in the Americas this week because of COVID-19 cases aboard. Holland America Line told CNN a "small number of fully vaccinated crew tested positive, all showed either mild or no symptoms." The real worry, the tens of millions of Americans who have not been vaccinated despite seeing evidence of lower hospitalization risk abroad. Dr. Anthony Fauci says the jury is still out as to how Omicron will play out in the U.S.

FAUCI: The number of cases that you see now every day it goes up and up. The last weekly average was about 150,000 and it likely will go much higher.

SANTIAGO: Healthcare resources are stretched thin, especially in areas where vaccination numbers are low.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: The hospitalizations are rising. There are a lot of unvaccinated people getting very sick in the hospital and not enough people to take care of them.

SANTIAGO: Health officials pushing booster vaccines, mitigation measures and testing.

FAUCI: We should be using testing much more extensively than we have, even in a situation where you have people who are vaccinated or boosted. We've obviously got to do better. I mean, I think things will improve greatly as we get into January but that doesn't help us today and tomorrow.


SANTIAGO: And as for as for those at-home test kits, the county has announced that we'll be distributing those at libraries today, but they expect traffic delays in the area where that will happen. And one major disclaimer, while supplies last. Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yeah, that's a huge disclaimer. And it's notable to hear Fauci say that, say that, yes, we need to do better and he thinks it will ramp up in January. Of course, right now around the holidays is when people really need those tests. Leyla Santiago, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

AVLON: Now, more on the airline cancellation nightmares flying tour from holiday destinations has been a test of patience this weekend amid increasing numbers of Omicron cases. More than 2000 flights have been canceled globally, today alone due to the Omicron surge as airlines wrestle with sick outs and staffing shortages. CNN's Nadia Romero, live at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, with the latest.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, good morning, John. And we are off to a rocky start this Monday morning with more than 700 flights canceled before at 6 a.m. Eastern Time today alone. And if you add that up with what we saw over the weekend, Christmas Day, the day after Christmas, Saturday and Sunday, we're talking 2500 flights canceled, just domestically then 1000s more if you look globally, the global five flights that were also canceled more than 6000. So those numbers mean a ripple effect. And if we have this many cancellations this early in the day, we know there's going to be that domino effect of cancellations and delays that will be felt all across the country.

Now, we spoke with some travelers here who had their flights canceled yesterday and they said some more heads up would have been nice. Delta Airlines, for instance, alerted travelers about 250 flights that were canceled last week on Wednesday. Other people didn't find out though this weekend until they came to the airport that their flight was canceled. I spoke with one traveler, just one who was excited. His flight was canceled because he wanted to have one extra day with his family. But overwhelmingly, people were pretty upset and frustrated because they needed to get back to where they were going. So, they go back to work and start their lives back to normal after the holiday.

We spoke with plenty of other people who were nervous. They were checking their phones all night, checking the websites, making sure that they can make their flights because many of them hadn't seen their family since before the pandemic, since 2019. Listen to why it was so important for them to be able to fly.

So, we also heard from people who were looking at how long the lines were at TSA checkpoints because of the sick outs that we saw, the airlines were telling us, also seeing those security checkpoints with TSA being down. So, we saw travelers being down this year compared to pre-pandemic levels as well. John.

AVLON: Nadia Romero, thank you very much. As you heard Omicron is spreading like wildfire causing another massive surge in COVID cases this winter. It's gotten so bad that the CDC is shortening isolation time for healthcare workers, as it anticipates a surge in hospitalizations. So, let's bring in Dr. Paul Offit. He's the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a Member of the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee.

Paul, it's good to see you. So, do these new isolation guidelines mean that Omicron variant has a shorter contagious period?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINE ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Well, so it would be nice to have data. What we know is that for studies done, for example, in Singapore that if you're vaccinated, you have a mild illness as compared to if you're unvaccinated and you have a mild illness. Those who are vaccinated will shed less virus for less period of time. So, you could argue that service roughly five days after you initially have symptoms that you're shedding significantly less virus, would be nice to have those data for Omicron. I suspect they're similar. But I think it's reasonable, actually, especially people who are vaccinated to shorten the length of time in which they're quarantined.

COLLINS: Well, so Dr. Offit, the CDC has shortened that, of course, for the healthcare workers. But why not just do it for the general public here if that is the case? If it is, if you are vaccinated, you have less virus and you're contagious for a shorter period of time?

OFFIT: No, it's good question. Remember, if you're a healthcare worker, when I work in the hospital, you know I'm masked and wearing goggles when I walk around for the most part all the time. You know, when I walk into a room, I'm gown and glove. But that's not true of the general population. So, I think if you could be reassured that the general population had a shorter period of time during which they isolate, and then they're out if they wore masked in any situation where they're out in public indoors, sure that I think that's a reasonable thing to do.

AVLON: So, I guess the question is, is the CDC going to memorialize this and shorten the isolation period for the general public? Should they in your opinion?

OFFIT: Yeah, I think that would be a reasonable thing to do with a caveat that, remember that it's not perfect. I mean, if you have a shortened length of time during which your quarantining, you still may be shedding virus depending on the nature of your illness initially. So, just -- first of all get vaccinated. If you're not vaccinated, you know, vaccinated or not you should -- when you're out in the general public indoors, and you're not sure that everybody else around you is vaccinated, I think it's reasonable to wear a mask.


COLLINS: Yeah, we're seeing a lot of those mask mandates come back into place, including here in Washington. I do wonder what you make of what we're hearing from South African scientists, which is that this wave of Omicron, in South Africa seems to be disappearing and dissipating just as quickly as it came about around a month ago, around Thanksgiving. And so, do you think that's something that we would see here in the United States?

OFFIT: Yes, I do. I think the other thing that's encouraging is if you look at that, that sort of dramatic peak in South Africa, and arguably in New York City, it really wasn't accompanied by a dramatic increase in hospitalizations or deaths. So, it looks like this is either a milder illness or what's going on because now you have a population is far more likely to have been vaccinated or naturally infected, or both, that you're getting a blunting of that seriousness of the disease caused by that previous immunity. So, I think that is good news. I mean, this is like trying to catch a burning hot cauldron. I mean, it's like trying to prevent the common cold. It's a highly transmissible virus that can still cause mild illness and people who are fully vaccinated. So that's what you're trying to stop. I do think you're going to sweep through the country, it's going to provide a lot of natural immunity. But unfortunately, the natural immunity that's going to provide to people who are unvaccinated may result in serious illness, hospitalization and death. So again, get vaccinated.

AVLON: That is the critical point. Dr. Ashish Jha said this about our prospects against COVID next year, take a listen.


DR. ASHISH JHA, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yeah, I think is definitely the year we get this under control. And I -- let me explain why. I mean, you know, this holiday season, no one thinks that this is 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, actually it won't be gone. It will be endemic, it'll be around. But it'll be much, much better than this year, because while the virus continues to change, so do we.

(END VIDEO CLIP) AVLON: So, break out your crystal ball here? I mean, do you agree with him, is this 2022 going to be the year we finally get a hold on COVID?

OFFIT: It depends on how you define getting a hold of it. It's a winter virus. So, we were going to see a surge this winter independent of whether or not Omicron came into this country and we'll probably see a surge next winter as well. But the question is, what level of disease and hospitalization and death were willing to live with? I mean, two years before this outbreak occurred, the pandemic occurred, influenza caused 700,000 hospitalizations in this country and 60,000 deaths. Could we have dramatically reduced this by masking and socially distancing over the winter? Yes, we've grandfather that in, and I think we're going to get to a point with COVID, where we grandfather in a certain level of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. I'm not sure what those numbers are. But I agree with Dr. Jha, I think that by next winter, the surge that you're going to see is going to be blunted as compared to this winter, and that will continue to be true.

COLLINS: And Dr. Offit, I think when we look at these milestones, you know, we're talking about what last winter looked like this winter, hopefully what next winter will look like one thing that I think has been surprising is that still there is a lack of accessibility to good testing rapid at-home testing is hard to come by right now. A lot of people of course, you've heard stories, they go to stores, and they can't find one, go to multiple stores or wait a few days? Are you surprised that we are still here in December 2021 still struggling to get access to that and to make that affordable and access accessible to everyone?

OFFIT: Yes. My sister who lives in London visit us a couple of weeks ago and she brought with her a packet of antigen detection kits that was provided to her by her country for free. There's no reason that we couldn't have done that, and we shouldn't have done it obviously earlier. I think that's -- it's many ways unconscionable.

AVLON: Well, it certainly is, and we'll see if we can take steps to remedy that because that deficit is being felt every day by folks at home. Dr. Paul Offit, thank you very much.

OFFIT: Thank you.

AVLON: All right. Up next, a Trump spokesman is suing the January 6 Commission over access to his financial records. What doesn't he want the lawmakers to see? And Vice President Kamala Harris revealing one of the biggest national security threats to America and what she says keeps her up worrying about?

COLLINS: Plus, today jury deliberations resume in the Elizabeth Holmes and Ghislaine Maxwell trials, what jurors are now weighing as everybody waits for the outcome.



AVLON: Another day, another attempt by the Trump White House to block efforts by the House Select Committee on January 6, the U.S. Capitol. Well, it seems that they're trying to run that play again because now a Trump spokesman is suing the committee in hopes of blocking access to financial records. CNN's Paula Reid, live in Washington with all the details. Paula?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, this lawsuit is really unique in the way it is trying to challenge the work of the January six committee, Trump Spokesman Taylor Budowich is suing to prevent the January 6 committee from obtaining some of his financial records. Now, the Trump's spokesman was subpoenaed last month, and, in the lawsuit, he argues that he's complied. He's produced more than 1700 pages of documents and notably, he's provided roughly four hours of sworn testimony.

Now, this is also significant as it is the first confirmed subpoena issued by the Committee for information directly from a bank. It shows how the committee is using its subpoena power to follow the money surrounding those pro-Trump rallies leading up to the insurrection.

Now, lawmakers are specifically seeking information for Budowich pertaining to the source of funds for the planning and promotion of the January 6 rally that directly proceeded the rioting. Now, but its claims that the documents he is provided are sufficient to identify all account transactions for the time period between December 19, 2020 to January 31, 2021, in connection with the rally.

Now, he argues that the Committee is seeking information that it lacks the authority to obtain. He argues as have others, but the Committee does not have the authority to do this, because how Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed two Republicans to the panel without the agreement of the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy.

Now, Federal Court of Appeals has upheld the legitimacy of this Committee and its investigation, though that has been appealed to the Supreme Court. And look, John, it's also not known if the banks targeted here have already turned over the records since Budowich's lawsuit was filed past the given deadline.

AVLON: That's a pretty key detail. Paula Reid, thank you very much.

COLLINS: And joining us now is CNN Political Analyst and Managing Editor of Axios, Margaret Talev. And CNN Political Analyst and White House Reporter for The Washington Post, Seung Min Kim.

Margaret, I want to start with you on this, the disclosure of this lawsuit and what it shows to us about where the committee is going because of course, such concern from Democrats on this has been essentially the time could be running out.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Kaitlan, we've known for a couple of months that the Committee was interested in trying to understand the financial connections, you know, behind the rallies, who was paying to organize the rallies, who was paying the vendors? Was there any concern about either foreign influence in the financing or in domestic extremist groups behind the financing, but this puts even a little bit more detail to it. It shows us, I think, that I the Committee is going directly to financial institutions, to banks like JP Morgan and other lending institutions and that the banks may be cooperating directly and sort of effectively notifying the people who are affected by it. But they have the ability to provide them that information. So, I think this is a, you know, very interesting and it shows us the phase that the Committee is in.


AVLON: Sure. And Seung Min, I mean, this court challenge centers around the former president spokesperson. We learned he's already given on 1700 documents to the Committee as well as several hours of testimony. That's a lot of cooperation from someone in the Trump orbit, right? How unusual is that?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and it's actually kind of interesting to the extent that different members of the Trump orbit have been cooperating or not cooperating with the January 6 committee. And I think chief among them is former Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, who we knew had initially agreed to cooperate with the Committee, had handed over a ton of text messages that were very revelatory into what some members of the Trump orbit were doing that day on January 6, when the insurrection was unfolding, but then declined to cooperate later.

We know Steve Bannon, obviously has declined to cooperate, both he and Mark Meadows have been sign -- or have been charged -- or have been cited by contempt of Congress. So, there are differing levels of cooperation. That is the argument that the former Trump spokesman is using in his lawsuit. But this is also another tactic here by members of the former president's inner circle that they use the courts to try to drag out this process. And as we've discussed, there's not a lot of time for this Committee. I think, politically speaking, we know that with House majority, with House Majority likely going to Republicans are projected to go to Republicans after the '22 elections. And they're kind of -- this Committee is living on borrowed time here.

COLLINS: Yeah, borrowed time. It does make you wonder if they're going to really ramp up these efforts over the next few months.

But Margaret, I want to switch subjects with you because of course, another big topic inside the White House, the biggest topic inside the White House is what's going to happen to President Biden's domestic agenda. And yesterday, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, did not say that they were not interested in the idea of breaking up this big expansive, Build Back Better plan into smaller pieces of legislation when he was asked about this idea.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are Democrats open to scaling it back even more, or passing various pieces as standalones may be attracting Senator Manchin or even some GOP on some of these issues?

BEN CARDIN, (D) MARYLAND SENATOR: Well, that's a strategy decision that's being negotiated. We are open to a way to reach the finish line. We want to make it as comprehensive as possible, because the needs are just there. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Of course, they would then need Republican votes to actually get some of that passed. So, do you think this is even a really a viable option for Democrats?

TALEV: I think when he said, talks about the finish line, what he's saying is, to get what they can get done in the amount of time they have to get it done. So, I really read his comments as trying to carve out the maximum amount of space for kind of the whatever works strategy. And look, the prevailing view among Democrats for a while has been that their best chance of getting anything done was to put it together in one package. If Joe Manchin really has put an end to it, which is what that looks like. They're trying to figure out what they can salvage.

And it seems clear that there are some pieces that are popular enough on a bipartisan front, that maybe they'd have a better, a decent chance of getting it done. I don't know. But I mean, things like prescription drug costs. Senator Blunt has talked about a mental health provision, the big expensive stuff that's really difficult to do things like the climate change provisions. And, you know, the child tax credit issues like those are going to be much more contentious would really require, it seems like a lot of paring back. And then could they hold the progressives together?

So, Cardin's comments seem designed for sort of maximum flexibility. It sounds like they are spending a lot of time in the next couple of weeks, figuring out what could they put together? And what path would those elements have in the time they have left?

AVLON: That's exactly right. And Seung Min, what are you hearing on the Hill with regard to the -- either the possibility of breaking this up into various pieces, or, as Congressman Jayapal suggested in an op- ed, perhaps even an executive action mechanism for some of these provisions. What are you hearing?

KIM: Well, on executive action, the White House has indicated over and over that they are limited in what President Biden can do unilaterally. First, just legally the scope of what he can do, what policies he can take, but also the fact that any successive administration can easily overturn what the Biden ministration does. So that's why legislating is the preferred option, is the best option for Democrats who want to do something transformational in terms of breaking things up.

Margaret is completely right, that trying to get Republican support makes it harder for these provisions to pass and we talked about the Child Tax Credit very regularly, how that is a popular provision, very important to Democrats. There are Republicans interested in the child tax credit in theory, but they're talking about instituting a work requirement for parents to qualify, to keep continuing, keep getting these child tax, the tax credit payments. That's not going to be OK for a lot of Democrats. It is something that Joe Manchin has supported in the past, but not the majority of the Democratic Party.


So once you get into the actual nitty gritty of negotiating, it's really hard to see how large swaths of the Build Back Better plan get passed with Republicans, which is why it's so important to get Joe Manchin on board, even if he seems pretty stubborn and resistant to these efforts right now.

COLLINS: Yeah, it seems like maybe scaling back the version that they had right now to something that would suit Senator Manchin might be their best option, but we will ask Senator Ben Cardin when he is on CNN here with us just shortly from now, but Margaret Talev and Seung Min Kim, thank you for joining us this morning.

Right now, strangers with only one thing in common, a positive COVID- 19 diagnosis are forced to share rooms in Singapore. That story next.

AVLON: And it's like sailing on a petri dish. That's how one passenger describes what went down on her Carnival cruise ship. What she says happened when she first realized that something was going terribly wrong.