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Biden Grapples with COVID Testing Failure; Number of Kids Hospitalized with COVID Rising; CDC Shortens Isolation Period to 5 Days After Asymptomatic Cases; Jayapal Urges Biden to Use Executive Action to Achieve Build Back Better Plan. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired December 28, 2021 - 06:00   ET


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It's Tuesday, December 28. I'm Kaitlan Collins, in with John Avlon.


We begin with the CDC cutting the recommended isolation period for many infected Americans in half. The agency now reducing the number of days from 10 to five, if you are asymptomatic.

The CDC is also now recommending the same amount of time for vaccinated people to quarantine if they're exposed to the virus. No quarantine at all if you're boosted.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says the new changes are part of an effort to get people back to work faster amid major concerns about staffing shortages at hospitals, airlines, and businesses across the country, due to the Omicron surge.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST/ANCHOR: And President Biden now grappling with a failure that could have been foreseen. The Omicron wave has exposed shortages in access to testing across the country.

Many frustrated Americans are now waiting in long lines for tests, if they can get them at all. Now, speaking to governors on Monday, the president conceded that steps he took to scale up testing capacity were not enough to meet demand.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not enough. It's clearly not enough. If I had -- we had known, we would have gone harder, quicker if we could have.

We have to do more. We have to do better. And we will.


AVLON: The president has pledged to distribute 500 million testing kits beginning in January. But that won't help this week's holiday crunch.

So let's go to CNN's Leyla Santiago, live outside a Miami testing site with more -- Leyla.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we are still seeing very long lines here. People telling us at times they've had to wait up to three hours to get tested. So much so that the county, Miami-Dade County, now plans to open four to five new testing sites in order to meet this unprecedented demand for testing of COVID-19.


SANTIAGO (voice-over): As the Omicron variant tears across the country, the CDC is changing its recommendations for people who test positive for COVID. The isolation period, now shortened from ten days to just five days for those with no symptoms.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: For the days six through 10 that you would have been isolated, you still have to be wearing a mask. And you have to be asymptomatic.

SANTIAGO: Recommended quarantine time for those exposed to COVID was also cut to five days to the unvaccinated or for people who have their vaccinations a few months ago and no booster. Experts do not expect the new guidance to contribute to more viral spread.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If you are asymptomatic, and you are infected, we want to get people back to the jobs, particularly those with essential jobs to keep our society running.

SANTIAGO: And that includes airlines. Holiday travel plans are being upended as many vaccinated staff and crew have called out sick after testing positive for COVID.

FAUCI: Many of the Omicron cases, interestingly, are either without symptoms or minimally symptomatic, particularly the breakthrough infections that you get when people have been vaccinated.

SANTIAGO: On Monday, more than 1,400 flights were canceled, more than 7,400 delayed, according to Flight Aware. The seasonal rush also creating a heavy demand on COVID testing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I can do is wait. I've been several places, and it's the same.

SANTIAGO: Testing locations are swamped, with lines wrapped around sites for blocks. At-home test kits are at an even higher premium. President Joe Biden conceding the steps he took earlier this year to scale up testing capacity have been insufficient in the wake of the Omicron surge.

BIDEN: We went from no over-the-counter tests in January to 46 million in October, 100 million in November, and almost 200 million in December. But it's not enough. It's clearly not enough.

SANTIAGO: The administration is preparing another 500 million free at- home rapid tests for Americans to order online, but the system will not be in place until next month. On a conference call with governors, the president offered assistance but said, ultimately, it would be states' efforts that curb the pandemic.

BIDEN: There is no federal solution. My message to the governors is simple. If you need something, say something.


SANTIAGO: And John, while the health group that runs this testing site, one of the busiest in South Florida, says that at this point supply is not an issue for them, Miami-Dade County announced overnight that they have distributed 152,000 test kits for at-home rapid testing. They are now out at the public libraries, where they were distributing them, and they have requested more from the Department of Health -- John.

AVLON: That's a step in the right direction. Leyla Santiago, live in Miami, thank you very much.

COLLINS: New data from the CDC and Health and Human Services Departments will be of concern to parents.

The federal agencies say that the number of children in the hospital with COVID-19 is getting close to a peak that was reached in early September.


New York City is reporting a five-fold increase in pediatric hospitalizations.

Our CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is following all of this for us. So Elizabeth, what should parents know about this increase in hospitalizations for children?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kaitlan, I think the first thing they should know is that still the number of children in the hospital in the U.S. is still very, very, very small, counted just a couple of hundred across the United States. So there's no reason to panic here.

However, what's of concern is that the numbers are rising. They're rising pretty significantly, too. A very small number, but still, they're rising.

So let's take a look at national numbers. So what we have here is that, if you look at COVID-19 hospitalizations among children, for the week ending December 18, it was 201 per day. The week ending December 25, just a week later, 260 per day. That's a significant jump. Still a small number, but a significant jump.

Now let's take a look at one city, at New York City, which has been hit so hard recently. From December 5 through the 11th, they had 22 admissions, just 22. And then December 19 through 23, so an actually shorter time period, they had 109 admissions. That is a big jump. Part of what might be going on here is that Omicron is so

transmissible, so many more people are getting infected, that you're going to see more children ending up in the hospital. So far, the numbers aren't huge, but the rise is certainly of concern -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes, so no reason to panic, but certainly, a reason to pay attention. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

AVLON: All right. Let's bring in Dr. Paul Offit. He's a physician of the Infectious Disease Division of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the FDA's Vaccine Advisory Committee.

Paul, good to see you, as always. A lot of questions to clear up here. On the one hand, this is guidance shifting that you had said was ideal, was necessary. And now it is in place.

But there are some questions. For example, how much of it's based on the data, and how much of it is based on the need of employers amid this Omicron wave?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: I think it's fair. I mean, when you think about how infections work, including this infection, you know, the virus sort of attaches to your nose and throat and begins to reproduce itself hundreds of times, thousands of times. That's when you're most contagious. You're most contagious before you develop any symptoms.

Then you develop symptoms, and those symptoms are based on your immune response. That's what causes the symptoms. So now you have symptoms.

As the symptoms -- and as the symptoms come up, then viral replication decreases dramatically. By the time you have no symptoms, I think it is fair to say you are shredding a trivial amount of virus if you're shedding virus at all.

So I think it's fair to say that, if you -- that if you're asymptomatic after having been infected, that you can then break quarantine, go out, and just mask for five more days. And even that is, I think, conservative. So I think this is perfectly reasonable.


COLLINS: So Dr. Offit, the key part of this is the phrase "if you're asymptomatic." And I think, of course, when this news was announced yesterday that they were shortening this, that was a key phrase that people may have missed but also needed to pay attention to.

So do you think people will be -- be honest about whether or not they're asymptomatic and going back into their daily lives?

OFFIT: No. I think we have pretty much found over the past year that -- that the trust system, the honor system, doesn't seem to work very well.

I mean, hopefully, this will make some sense. I think you can simplify it by saying if you're sick, wait until you're not sick and then please wear a mask. And if you -- if you've been exposed, at least wear a mask for ten days.

I mean, we've tried to divide it up into sort of vaccinated and boosted, as compared to unvaccinated or not boosted. But it's probably easier just to remember, wear a mask for ten days if you -- if you know you've been exposed.

AVLON: I mean, the fact that the honor system and trust has broken down so much during this pandemic is a real problem for society. Let me ask you an even more specific question. This is a guideline for people who are asymptomatic. Important detail. Got that.

What about guidance for people who are vaccinated versus unvaccinated? Has that changed at all? Should it?

OFFIT: So what they've tried to say is that if you're -- if you're vaccinated and boosted, then you only have to wear a mask; don't worry about quarantining if you're exposed.

But if you're -- if you're not boosted or not vaccinated, then you're handled in the way where you would still have to quarantine for five days if exposed.

I think it's hard to remember all that. What's the easiest thing to remember -- and Kaitlan actually said this yesterday -- is that masking. I think masking is going to be the key here for about the next six weeks. We're going to be dealing with this virus for the -- in a major way for the next six weeks.

First of all, it's winter. You would have seen an increase in cases and hospitalizations anyway, even if Omicron wasn't here. Plus, you have Omicron, which is much more contagious.

And you have a virus which is slightly off target from -- from immunity induced by vaccine in terms of protection and gets mild disease. That will protect you against severe disease, but not as well against mild disease.

As Dr. Fauci said, there's going to be a lot of asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic infections. I mean, a flood of that. But again, it's -- this virus, where it's going to hit hard is people who are unvaccinated.


I mean, in our hospital, for example, what we do is anytime a child is admitted to the hospital, we test them to see whether they have COVID. There's clearly an increase in that number. But what there's not an increase in is children who are hospitalized because they have COVID or in the intensive care unit because they have COVID.

So there is a disassociation between cases and serious cases.

COLLINS: Well, that's good news for parents.

And I do want to ask you, because one thing that surprised me when this new CDC guidance came out yesterday is they did not recommend that people take a rapid test before ending their isolation period, just to double check. And of course, we know the rapid test can often be a good way to know if you're still pretty highly contagious.

So why do you think the CDC didn't take that step yesterday?

OFFIT: Well, if people are honest, and they truly have no symptoms, the chance that they're shedding an amount of virus that would cause them to likely be contagious is -- is extremely small. I mean, it's not zero, but it's extremely small. So I think that's true.

It's also hard to get tests. And so I think that may be part of it, as well. But I think, again, it's the honor system. You really do have to be asymptomatic, and that worries me.

AVLON: Well, I want to just focus on the data for a second. Because there are some numbers that should get people's attention about the reality of what we're dealing with.

Since last week, we've seen a 61.5 percent increase in new cases, a 17.8 increase in new deaths. A decrease of 33.4 percent in the number of vaccines administered.

That decrease in vaccines administered, given the rising wave, is simply insane to me. But do you think this new guidance that decreases isolation time for folks who are asymptomatic will help, rather than hurt those indicators?

OFFIT: Well, in a better world, sure. I mean, in a better world, people would be frightened enough by Omicron and its contagiousness and care enough about their own health and the health of the people they come in contact with where they would be vaccinated.

Obviously, what we deal with in the hospital when we see children hospitalized because of COVID, or in the ICU because of COVID, they're all unvaccinated. They're unvaccinated; the parents are unvaccinated. The siblings are unvaccinated.

Anybody who cares about their health or people with whom they come in contact's health will get vaccinated.

And you really wonder about people who are getting tested. I mean, people who are -- I'd like to see a study on this, who's getting tested. I mean, I imagine people who are getting tested care about their health, care about people they're coming in contact with, and, therefore, are more likely to be vaccinated. But it would be interesting to see those data.

COLLINS: It would be interesting. But the thing is, it's so hard to get tests that it's hard to get people into that regular testing routine. Now that they're actually seeking them out, if you have to go to multiple stores, it's not actually encouraging to take a test.

But Dr. Paul Offit, before I let you go, I do want to ask, when do you think this is going to peak? When are we going to see the peak of this Omicron wave here in the United States? OFFIT: I would be surprised if we weren't dramatically coming down off

this by mid-February. That was true last year. If you look at last winter, when we really didn't have many people who were vaccinated or even naturally infected, we were starting to come down in mid- February. I would think that would at least be true here, and it may be earlier than that.

So we really just need to get through the next six weeks. Obviously, if you haven't been vaccinated, vaccinate yourself. And if you've been exposed, please wear a mask at least for ten days.

AVLON: All right. Dr. Paul Offit. Buckle up and hunker down for the next six weeks, folks. Appreciate your time, Paul. Be well.

OFFIT: Thank you.

AVLON: All right. Coming up, President Biden pledges more work needs to be done to ease the shortage of COVID tests, as he grapples with yet another political blow.

Meanwhile, a top progressive urges Biden to focus on Build Back Better and says he should use this workaround in order to deliver on his spending plan.

COLLINS: And ahead, the LAPD has released body-cam video of a police shooting that killed a 14-year-old bystander while she was in the store's dressing room. What we're learning about the chaos that unfolded.



COLLINS: As Omicron sends cases soaring across the country, President Biden is now acknowledging that the steps he's taken to scale up testing capacity weren't nearly enough to meet demand.


BIDEN: We went from no over-the-counter tests in January to 46 million in October, 100 million in November and almost 200 million in December. But it's not enough. It's clearly not enough. If I had -- we had known we would have gone harder, quicker, if we could have.


COLLINS: Joining us now is CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona and CNN White House correspondent John Harwood.

So John, I want to start with you, because of course, it's hardly a surprise that there were going to be new variants. We've heard medical experts saying for several months now that testing was going to be a key part of this, but you saw the administration often relying on getting people vaccinated, focusing on that aspect of this.

So were you surprised at all by President Biden's acknowledgement yesterday that testing is not where it needs to be?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I wasn't, because it's obviously not where he needs to be. And when you're the president, the buck stops with you.

Obviously, the coronavirus has surprised us at many points here. The Delta variant and the way that took over in the summer was not something that had been specifically expected.

It's one thing to say we know there are going to be variants. It's another to encounter them and encounter high levels of transmissibility. And obviously, Omicron is much more transmissible than what we've seen before.

But there's no getting around that the combination of Omicron, the holidays where people were trying to get together, people were frustrated.

The president of the United States has no choice but to acknowledge that frustration, say I hear you, I see the problems you're having, and we're going to do better. That's -- that's a practical step he needs to take.

And the way the country is responding to the coronavirus is the critical variable right now for the success of his presidency. It has been from throughout 2021. There were times when it was better and his ratings were higher. But now it's worse, and his ratings have gone down. And this is something politically, as well as a matter of public health and economics, he needs to deal with.

AVLON: No question about it.

Melanie, you know, it is a whitewater world out there. It's full of unforeseen changes, and that's what Biden's dealing with.

But in January, when he released his COVID plan initially, it included this statement. Quote, "For the past year, we could not turn to the federal government for a national plan to answer prayers with action until today." Strong declaration.

But I want you to contrast this with what he said yesterday. Take a listen.


BIDEN: Look, there is no federal solution. This gets solved at a state level. I'm looking at Governor Sununu on the board here. He talks about that lot. And it ultimately gets down to where the rubber meets the road, and that's where the patient is in need of help or preventing the need for help.


AVLON: Is this a flip-flop, or is this him rediscovering the beauty of federalism? Because that's actually where problems get solved. MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, clearly

he's putting the onus back on states to achieve some of these testing ramp-ups here.

But really, the administration needs to take a multifaceted approach to this. And it's not just testing and vaccines. It's also masking and the protocols which are done on the state level.

But for the Biden administration, it's really inexcusable at this point to be caught flat-footed by Omicron. I mean, we already had the Delta variant this summer. The administration was slow to embrace the vaccine mandates. They declared premature independence from the virus.


And Biden himself said in March that they were going to ramp up the ability to have at-home testing and that just hasn't happened yet.

It's a little -- you know, a little too much -- a little bit too late here for them to be actually ramping it up in time for the holiday seasons.

And this could really cost them preliminarily. I mean, at the end of the day, voters are going to be voting on whether or not they feel like the country has returned to normal, and it just does not feel that way right now.

HARWOOD: Hey, John, if I could add on that one point.


HARWOOD: I think that was a throwaway line from Biden. I think Biden was beginning a call from governors. As Jeff Zients was saying, they've had 40 of these calls. The reason is that there is an interaction between the federal government and state governments.

And I think presidents always make reference to the fact that states have a lot of authority, and we need to work in cooperation. I don't think that he was actually signaling like, Oh, OK, it's not my job anymore; it's your job.

Because he went on to outline the things that he was trying to do to catch up to the testing problem, and acknowledging, as we've just been talking about, that we need to do better.

But I think somewhat more has been made of that -- of that little sort of polite beginning of the conversation than is warranted.

AVLON: Fair point.

COLLINS: I do think it will be worth watching, because Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas also told the president there was a concern that this plan by the federal government to distribute half a billion tests for free to homes to people who apply for them online could hurt resources that are going to states. And that's something that he talked to Biden about yesterday on that call. Melanie, while I have you here, I do want to ask about another part

that's happening here in Washington, which is what's happening with the president's domestic agenda and this Build Back Better plan, of course, that we know seemed to be derailed when Senator joe Manchin said he could not support it as it is right now.

But now we have Congresswoman Jayapal, of course, of the Progressive Caucus, writing in an op-ed that they are calling on President Biden to use executive action. She says, "To immediately improve people's lives, taking executive action will also make clear to those who hinder Build Back Better that the White House and Democrats will deliver for Americans."

So she wrote that, Melanie, but is there really a viable path forward for President Biden to use executive action to get his agenda passed?

ZANONA: Well, Democrats certainly, the reality is setting in for them right now. I mean, Build Back Better is dead in its current form. The clock is ticking towards the midterm. And so they're searching for a backup plan.

And that's why you're increasingly hearing progressives like Pramila Jayapal call on the president to start using executive action to achieve some of these priorities, like combatting climate change or lowering prescription drug prices.

But the problem is Biden is pretty limited in what he can actually to with his pen. If there's stuff he could have done, he probably would have already done it by now.

And anything he does accomplish through executive action could always be overturned by a future Republican president. So this is really like a last resort for Democrats, but the feeling right now among Democrats is that, if they don't achieve on some of these priorities, it's going to depress voter turnout in the midterms. So they're just scrambling, really, for any way forward on pieces of Biden's agenda.


HARWOOD: Melanie's right, guys. I think if it were that easy to -- for the president simply to do it, they wouldn't have been knocking themselves out trying to get Joe Manchin on board.

AVLON: Exactly.

HARWOOD: This is something that is borne, I think, of frustration, not a practical approach to what Biden wants to do.

COLLINS: And, of course, legislation, as Melanie noted, would be longer lasting.

John and Melanie, thank you both for getting up early with us this morning.

AVLON: Good to see you guys. COLLINS: Coming up, she was 14 years old and trying on dresses with her mother when she was fatally shot inside a store dressing room by the police, who were aiming for a suspect. Authorities now have released the body cam footage.

AVLON: And the jury in the Ghislaine Maxwell trial still trying to reach a verdict. As deliberations resume just hours from now, what jurors wanted from the court as they weigh her fate.


AVLON: In a heartbreaking story, the LAPD has released new body cam footage that shows what led up to the police shooting death of a 14- year-old girl in a North Hollywood, California, store last Thursday.

The footage shows a suspect brutally assaulting several people at a Burlington Coat Factory. At least one police officer fired several shots at the suspect and then made a shocking discovery.

CNN's Josh Campbell joins us live from California with more on the story -- Josh.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we are getting new insight into the chaotic scene inside that California department store as the suspect went on a rampage, attacking customers.

I want to warn our viewers that this new body camera footage released by the LAPD is graphic. It's disturbing.

This is the moment when an officer made that decision to try to stop a threat, also resulting in the death of a 14-year-old child.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's bleeding, she's bleeding!

CAMPBELL (voice-over): New LAPD body cam video, edited and released late Monday, shows the events that led up to the shooting of a 14- year-old girl last Thursday at a North Hollywood, California, store.


CAMPBELL: The footage shows the suspect assaulting several women at a Burlington store before police arrive, guns drawn. 911 and radio calls around noon Thursday reported an assault in progress, then confusion over whether there's a possible active shooter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a guys with their guns just shot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shooting just occurred. North Hollywood units, additional to ADW shooting, Victory and Laurel Canyon. Suspect is still inside the location.

CAMPBELL: Police body cam footage shows when they arrived at the store, they saw the suspect hitting a woman, then found her hurt and bleeding after she was hit repeatedly in the arms and the head with a metal bike lock.

Police located the suspect, Daniel Alito Lopez, nearby.


CAMPBELL: And at least one officer fired several shots and killed him. No gun was found near his body as officers searched the scene. Then, police made a disturbing discovery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unbeknownst to the officers, a 14-year-old girl was in the changing room behind a wall that was behind the suspect and out of the officer's view. She was in the changing area with her mother when the officers encountered the suspect and the officer-involved shooting occurred.

CAMPBELL: Police say they believe she was hit by an officer's bullet that ricocheted off the tile floor and entered the dressing room wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Officers found the girl.