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New Day

The launch of NASA's Webb Telescope, Spider-Man: No Way Home latest series, Fast-spreading Omicron variant. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 27, 2021 - 07:30   ET



HAKEEM OLUSEYI, ASTROPHYSICIST: The first science results aren't expected for months. But, you know, it's -- getting off the ground is very important. And it's very scary to get into orbit. But then, once it has to -- once it's in space, it has to undergo tests. It has to be poised certain things like the antenna, the solar array. And then it has to make its way to the L2 Lagrange point. And it requires several course corrections to properly get into its orbit.

So we're a little bit premature. It's not there yet. Everything is not completely open and taking in science data yet. We're not even close to that. So one step at a time.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And of course, the launch of this was amazing to watch. I was in Alabama for Christmas. I actually got up at 6:20, their local time to watch this. And I know astronomers all across the globe were watching this because it took a while to get here. This is something that they thought was going to launch several years ago. Of course, that changed. And it seemed to go right up until the last minute, the launch in and of itself over the concerns, over the delays, and whether or not it was going to actually happen, before actually going forward on Christmas day, right?

OLUSEYI: That's right, yes. So the delays, you know, one way you can look at a delay is, oh, it's horrible. You're over schedule, you're over budget. And that's what has plagued the telescope for the full duration of its history. What's happened recently with the launch delays, those are a good thing because you want to make sure you do this right. The stresses of launch are severe that then gets all shaken up and then -- So barely accelerated and shaken up. And so if any tiny little piece comes loose, you've destroyed the billions that you've put into this thing. So you absolutely want to be incredibly careful and make sure everything is going just right. But now, we're at the precipice of a science bonanza. There's a reason why so much time and effort went into this telescope and not to mention human hours and money.

SHEPARD SMITH, CNN ANCHOR: And then just to put the science bonanza and some perspective here, what really blows my mind is that this will give us the ability to look effectively back in time to the early days of our galaxy, our solar system, the universe. So tell folks how that works, because that just does mind boggling.

OLUSEYI: It is, it really, really is. And it's mind boggling that we as humans can even do this. But, you know, we construct these very careful models of the universe based on well-established science. And what we look for are observational predictions of that science. If this happened, then this must have happened. So let's go and look for it. And so we've had a gap in our ability to observe. We've been able to observe the leftover light as we call it from the big bang, which goes back to 400,000 years after the universe began, our 13.8 billion year old universe. And then there's this era known as the Dark Ages. And this is when eventually the first galaxies form, the first stars form. And we've not been able to observe that because you have to have enough light-collecting capacity, which means a really large mirror. And you have to be looking in the right wavelength regime.

Unlike Hubble, Webb is infrared. That's because as space is expanding, as light travels through that space, it gets stretched out by the same amount that space expanded while the light was traveling through it. So that means that light that left the sources visible light by the time it reaches us, it's a longer wavelength, infrared.

SMITH: It's so cool.

COLLINS: It is going to be so cool. It's also going to be a lot of work for the team on this. We know it's -- I believe I read it's 12 hour shifts, which is going to be around the clock. We will be watching closely to see what happens and what we learned from this. And Hakeem Oluseyi, thank you so much for joining us this morning on such an exciting time launch.

OLUSEYI: Thank you, Thank you for having me. And Happy New Year.

SMITH: Happy New Year.

COLLINS: Happy New Year.

SMITH: Wow. Well, a different realm of the fantastic Spider-Man has a new claim to fame this morning, "No Way Home," the latest installment of the series has managed to spin something no other movie has been able to produce since the pandemic began. Take a look.


DOCTOR OTTO OCTAVIUS: Hello, Peter. You're not Peter Parker.

PETER PARKER: I'm sorry, what was your name again?

OCTAVIUS: Doctor Otto Octavius.


SMITH: That's all translates to a web of more than $1 billion in box office for steeds. (INAUDIBLE) and CNN chief media correspondent, and host of Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter. Brian, what do you make of this?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Yes, it is the first billion dollar movie of the pandemic. And it achieved that dollar (INAUDIBLE) in only 10 days. This is a combination of domestic, and international, and global sales. So Spider-Man is made almost half a billion just in North America, another half a billion in other parts of the world. And it is being hailed by movie theater owners and watchers as a major pivot point of this pandemic.

I think two things are at play here. One, film quality. If it's a really good movie, it's a superhero movie and you want to see it in theaters. People are willing to go to the theaters. And number two, I think these incredible box office receipts show COVID fatigue. You know, many, many people wanting to get out of the house, wanting to get back to the movie theaters. It's the same reason why we're seeing restaurants, and bars, and other places packed. People want to get back to normality. And when there's a movie we're seeing in a theater, they will still go and see it. SMITH: They certainly seems to fall into that category despite Omicron people turning out for the latest Spider-Man. Brian, thank you very much for (INAUDIBLE) Well.


STELTER: Thanks.

SMITH: All right. Well, exactly how dangerous is the Omicron COVID variant? Doctor Anthony Fauci will be joining us live in just a few minutes.

COLLINS: And what's the strategy for the Biden agenda after a key Senator shutdown his Build Back Better plan? We'll hear from a senate democrat on what he thinks is going to happen.



SMITH: The sunshine state of Florida receiving an unwelcome Christmas gift of the largest single day increase of new COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Get this, more than 32,000 people tested positive on Christmas day alone, breaking the previous record set on Christmas Eve. Overall, Florida's case numbers went up more than 330% last week as compared to the week before. Miami-Dade County is one of the hottest spots in the state with a positivity rate of over 16%. Joining me now to discuss this is the Mayor of Miami Beach, Dan Gelber, Mayor Gelber, good to see you. In your county in early October, you said the weekly daily averages were under 300 cases per day. That just jumped over to 1,600. What do you say that local government can do? And what did you need from the state and federal government to help get it done?

DAN GELBER, MAYOR OF MIAMI BEACH: Well, as, as most people know, our state leaders have been more interested really in stopping people from having to get the vaccine than they have in urging them to get it. So there's very little we can do. We can't require masks. And private industry and public sector cannot require vaccines. But what we can do is give people access to testing. In my city, we have a city run as well as many other testing sites. So thousands of people are getting tested every day. A lot of those people are checking to make sure before they go to events that they're not positive. We are giving tomorrow, actually this morning, we're starting to give out free testing kits, three per household to folks while supplies last so we can help them get tested. But there's not a whole lot you can do right now in the state of Florida to stop this surge. And it is an unquestioned surge in both positives and hospitalizations.

SMITH: Well, that is very positive news what you just said that you're going to be sending three home testing kits free to folks in your city. That's a major step forward. What are you seeing on the ground that you think needs to get more national attention? How are hospitalizations? How our case rates among the young, for example?

GELBER: Well, it's interesting. And you know, we -- about a week ago, there were about 30 people a day checking into a Dade county hospital. Now, that number is between 1 to 200. So I know people have said that this Omicron is not as hurtful to people, but it's sending people to the hospital in pretty large numbers. So obviously, you're enduring some pain if you get it. And of course, the other point is if it continues in this trajectory, it will challenge our hospital system.

I think the thing I tell everybody, and it's a very simple message is, please get the boost. One piece of fact that is really important is, of all the people that are checking into the hospital in my county, about 65% to 70% of them are unvaccinated. But only about 3% to 4% are people who have gotten the booster shot. So if you have your booster shot, if you're current on your vaccine, it's really unlikely you're going to endure the worst impact of this virus. And that's, I think, pretty important. So we urge everybody to get their vaccine. We have sites everywhere. We go to people's homes. But there are still some who are misinformed or unfortunately, feel like it's a political statement to not get the vaccine, which of course is absurd. But it's very hurtful to them and others.

SMITH: No question about it. And we're showing that data up there. It's extraordinary. The boost only 7% or 3% of the total hospitalizations in your county are from folks who've been boosted. That would suggest that the boost really can stave off hospitalization as you just said. L:et's switch over to another local industry, which national residents, which is the Carnival Cruise ship that disembarked in Miami on Sunday with several new COVID cases. How are you handling that situation operationally?

GELBER: Well, we don't have a whole lot of control over it. And you know, this cruise lines and the governor have been in a fight about whether they can require, you know, vaccine mandates as all our private industry have. So it's really, you know, there's not a whole lot we can do. I mean, look, the problem is, at this point, all the government can do is give people some of the tools, like the ability to get tested easily. That's really what we're doing more than anything. But there's not a whole lot we can do in Florida because the

legislature and the governor have outlawed vaccine mandates. They've even outlawed, obviously, mask mandates in certain areas by government and elsewhere.

[00:15:08] So I mean, we're almost powerless to do much other than let people know that there's an easy way to get vaccinated and an easy way, you know, to get tested. But at this point, you know, that's all we're able to do.

SMITH: So do you think then that Governor DeSantis has effectively made this pandemic worse in the state of Florida in your setting?

GELBER: There's no question that, you know, by deciding that, you know, we're going to try to get immunity by letting the herd catch the virus as just lengthened the virus and allowed these variants to sort of come back. I don't think there's any question Florida's handled it poorly. We're usually between 7th or 12th with the worst mortality rate for COVID in the country. And these spikes come almost entirely without any ability to control them. I'm really amazed by the way because, you know, we handle hurricanes much differently. We all get together and we say the same thing.

But right now, when it comes to this, for whatever reason, our governor and legislature have decided that they're going to champion not taking the virus rather than urging people to take the virus. And that's sort of nuts to me because, you know, that's the golden ticket out of this. And for some reason, we've made it a political statement when frankly, we require vaccines of children in schools. We do a whole lot of things to tell people they've got to protect themselves and others. But for some reason, this has become a political statement. And there is no question that making it a political statement is killing people and making them sicker.

SMITH: So worst thing we can do in Florida suffering more deaths from COVID than the Americans who died during the Vietnam War. It's an ongoing tragedy. Mayor Dan Gelber, thank you so much.

GELBER: Thank you. Yes.

SMITH: Coming up next. We're going to speak live with Doctor Anthony Fauci about the surge of new cases from this fast spreading Omicron variant.



COLLINS: As we enter the third year now of the coronavirus, pandemic cases are on the rise yet again, because of Omicron. But exactly how dangerous is the new variant?

Joining us now is President Biden's chief medical advisor on COVID-19, Doctor Anthony Fauci. Doctor Fauci, thank you for joining us this morning. And we're seeing this huge wave of Omicron cases in South Africa appears to be decreasing just as quickly as it grew. Do you think that that's going to happen in the United States? Or are you still expecting a potential surge in nationwide hospitalizations?

DOCTOR ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER ON COVID-19 TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, we're certainly going to continue to see a search for a while. Kaitlan, I fully expect that it will turn around. I hope it turns around as sharply as what we've seen in South Africa. I went over the data with our South African colleagues a day or two ago. And the increase up, particularly in Gauteng province turned around rapidly and came down. And we thought it was maybe something that was a variant about that particular province. But now, we're starting to see it in all the different provinces. So I hope we peak and come down quickly.

The other thing that's going on there, as you probably know, is that it looks like the degree of severity of the disease is considerably less than they experienced with Delta. Was seeing inklings of that now in the United States. The UK is also seeing that. So I do hope that we do have the net effect is a diminution in the degree of severity. But the sheer volume of cases that we're seeing now, yesterday we had 214,000 cases, even with a diminution in severity, we still could have a surge on hospitals, particularly among the unvaccinated, which they were really worried about.

COLLINS: Yes, 214,000 cases, is that a number that you think could reach half a million soon?

FAUCI: You know, it's possible, Kaitlan. I don't think it will, but you never really can tell. It just really depends. There are so many things that we can do to mitigate against that. The thing we keep talking about is that, you know, if you're not vaccinated and get vaccinated, but importantly, boosters are really looming as something very, very important. Because if you look at the data, particularly with Omicron, the protection against infection and severe disease goes way, way down with Omicron. But when you get a boost, it brings it right back almost to the level where it was before. So boosters are always good for any variant, but particularly for Omicron. If you're vaccinated and not yet boosted, and your time comes for getting boosted, please get boosted. It's going to make all the difference to prevent you from getting severe disease.

COLLINS: Well, Doctor Fauci, the CDC now says healthcare workers who are asymptomatic can go back to work after seven days if they have a negative test result. Is this something that the government is considering shortening for everyone given you've seen other countries do that?

FAUCI: Well, it's going be -- Well, certainly, we're considering it going beyond just healthcare workers, because, you know, there are a lot of people in society that of essential for the smooth running of the infrastructure of our society. So the idea about cutting down the period of quarantine for people who have been exposed and perhaps the period of isolation for people who have been infected as something that is on, I would say, serious consideration.


COLLINS: OK, serious consideration. And I know this comes as today, that's under consideration. President Biden is also going to be joining that call that the White House COVID team has with the nation's governors. They say it's to hear directly about their concerns when it comes to this new variant. And I think a lot of that has to do with testing and treatment. And we've seen a shortage of those rapid at-home tests lately across the nation. And so I'm wondering at what point will we be here in the United States where anyone and everyone can walk into a drug store and get an at-home test?

FAUCI: Well, Kaitlan, as you know, I've been talking about this for some time now about flooding the system with testing so that it's the situation that you just described, anyone anytime can get it. I believe as we get into January, into the first couple of weeks in January with the 500 million tests that the President is putting out there, as well as putting online the capability of essentially ordering tests and having them delivered to your home and setting up about 10 to 20,000 testing centers throughout the country, particularly in those cities that are having high surges. So things are going to change substantially in the first 0couple of weeks, and as we get into the middle of January.

COLLINS: I think it's welcome news that things would change in January. But that does miss a critical period right now where people are traveling to see family. They're hoping to get together for the holidays for New Year's Eve. And so why aren't we there right now with testing?

FAUCI: You know, testing has always been an issue, Kaitlan, that has been problematic. It has been compounded by the situation of the high demands. We had a conflation of high demands, high demands because of the concern about Omicron, which is a justifiable concern, but the high demand that was triggered by the holiday season, people getting ready to travel, getting ready to go and mix with family members and friends. It's been a very, very strong run on testing. And, you know, obviously not making any excuses for it. We should've had more tests available. But hopefully now, as we get into the first couple of weeks in January, that'll get much better.

COLLINS: I do want to ask you about a treatment as well, that the FDA authorized last week, the first pill for COVID-19, which is a very highly effective defense against severe illness, which is obviously great news. But the White House says that there's only going to be 265 treatment courses of Pfizer available next month. So how long do you think it's going to take until that pill is widely available to everyone in the United States?

FAUCI: Well, we have an order and a commitment for 10 million treatment courses. That, unfortunately, Kaitlan, is going to take a few months before we get to that number. And the reason is that the synthetic process of making this is very complicated and a multistep process that is very difficult to cut down on the timeframe of getting high quantities. We are going to do everything we can, including the Defense Production Act to try and see if we can actually get this at a higher level. We're not sure what we can do and how much time we can cut off on that. But certainly, it needs to be done because it is a highly, highly effective therapy, 90% protection from progression to hospitalizations and deaths.

COLLINS: Yes. And the Defense Production Act that you mentioned there is where the government can compel private companies to help them ramp up production of something like that. I do wonder, we are approaching New Year's Eve at the end of this week. A lot of people have got events and gatherings planned. And I know you said it's OK to be with friends and family if you're vaccinated and boosted. But what is your advice to people about larger settings for new Years' parties?

FAUCI: Kaitlan, I would stay away from that. I mean, I have been telling people consistently that if you're vaccinated, and boosted, and you have a family setting in the home with family and relatives. But when you're talking about a New Year's Eve party, we have 30, 40, 50 people celebrating, you do not know the status of their vaccination, I would recommend strongly stay away from that this year. There will be other years to do that, but not this year.

COLLINS: Not this year. That's good information. And I do have one more question for you. You are an advisor to President Biden now. Of course, you previously one advisor when it came to President Trump, when he was in office in the beginning of this pandemic. And you've seen, surely by now, this exchange that he had with Candace Owens, where he is talking about just the truth on vaccines, and boosters, and how it can keep people out of the hospital and from dying, of course. And I'm wondering what you made of that, given it's been this rightwing backlash ever since the former president made those comments?