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U.S. Hits New Record Average of Daily Cases as Omicron Surges; Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Dies at 82; Legendary NFL Coach and Broadcaster John Madden Dies at 85. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2021 - 07:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN NEW DAY: But, first, to the pandemic, because the U.S. is hitting a record seven-day average of more than 265,000 new coronavirus Tuesday as two highly contagious variants are fueling surges across the country. We should note the number of hospitalizations are not yet rising at the same rate.

Meanwhile, the CDC is shortening its estimate of the prevalence of the omicron variant in the U.S last week from 70 to 59 percent. The drop suggests that while the new variant was certainly on the rise, it is not infecting people at the same rate that the agency had projected.

JOHN AVLON, CNN NEW DAY: And pediatric hospitalizations are also near their September peak. Nationwide, hospitalizations of children with the virus have jumped on average, nearly 50 percent in just one week. And parents are understandably concerned as vaccination rates, particularly among the pediatric population, continue to lag, leaving many children potentially vulnerable to infection.

President Biden now says vaccine requirements for domestic travel could be imposed if his medical team recommends it. But Dr. Fauci says don't expect that one for now, as health officials are advising we should brace for case numbers to skyrocket early in the New Year.

So, let's go to CNN's Leyla Santiago live at a testing site in Miami with more. Good morning, Leyla.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. We have been at this site all week long. This is one of the busiest in South Florida. And we really haven't seen the lines lit up just yet, and that is after the county. Miami-Dade County opened two new sites and extended hours at others. We are still talking to people this morning here who tell us they had to wait three hours just to be tested.

Now, we have also talked to the workers here. And they tell us they are expecting that demand in testing to continue into the New Year.


YANETTE SHIPP, COVID TESTING SITE WORKER: It's almost like COVID started all over again, so with the influx of patients that are coming through.

A lot of people aren't feeling well so that is why they are coming to us. And then we also understand we have a lot of patients that are concerned, just, oh, I was exposed, or I was next to somebody who was exposed. I just want to make sure that I'm okay.


SANTIAGO: And that's for the on-site testing. You know, it's really hard right now to get your hands on the take-home rapid test kits. The county distributed 152,000 of those on Friday and Monday. They are now out. They had made request to the Department of Health for more. But at this point, there's no telling on when they will have more supplies to distribute. John?

AVLON: Leyla Santiago live in Miami, thank you very much.

COLLINS: Joining us now is Dr. Larry , an infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

So, Doctor, I want to start with you on what we are seeing when it comes to children, because this is a big concern to parents, seeing these numbers go up at the rate that they are. Though we should note we haven't seen the cases be severe, so that is some good news for parents not to panic over this. But what is your advice based on what you are seeing on the ground right now?

DR. LARRY KOCIOLEK, ATTENDING PHYSICIAN AND INFECTIOUS SPECIALIST, LURIE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL CHICAGO: We are concerned as well. We are right now seeing more cases per day than at any point in the pandemic. Our number of daily cases is now 70 per day over the last week. That's more than three times our previous peak a year ago.

And so my advice is surely not to panic. Fortunately, the vast majority of children that are infected with COVID have mild infection. But you do have to be aware that that does put your child at risk for hospitalization and puts your child at risk for transmitting to other people in their classroom if measures aren't taking to prevent it, risk of spreading to other people in the home who may be at high risk for hospitalization.

So, we can do that by being aware of the symptoms. Symptoms of COVID can be quite mild, indistinguishable from other infections, such as sore throat, cough, runny nose, can be more severe like, difficulty breathing, fever, things like that.

And so if you have those symptoms, seek testing, avoid contact with others and speak to your physician about when is the appropriate time to go to the emergency room or the hospital.

AVLON: Doctor, I mean, you just described a three-fold increase from the previous high at your hospital that you are seeing among kids. Tell us a little bit more about the kids who have been hospitalized. Obviously, this is not sniffles that they bring into the hospital. So, how sick are they? What are their symptoms? And what percentage are vaccinated? KOCIOLEK: Yes. So, the vaccination rate in Chicago currently, we've done I think a really great job of getting vaccine to our adolescent and teenage population. About 70 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds in Chicago are fully vaccinated. And we still have a lot of work to do with the 5 to 11-year-old group. 70 percent of 5 to 11-year-olds are unvaccinated at the moment.


And so that's an opportunity.

And the kids that are in the hospital varies by age and their comorbidities. Children with medical complexity are more likely to be in intensive care unit because of shortness of breath related to COVID pneumonia or inflammation of the heart. Those kids may or may not need a ventilator.

Infants, for example, may only have fever and are evaluated for other more serious bacterial infections, for example, that need antibiotics and are observed. Many children may have signs of symptoms of croup. Some kids are presenting seizures related to their fever. The symptoms really can run the gamut in terms of the need for hospitalization.

COLLINS: And I think that's such a big concern for parents, because no parent wants their child to even go to the hospital at all.

And so stepping back, though, and looking at the new numbers from the CDC overnight, what is the significance to you of the CDC slashing its estimate of how much omicron is circulating in the United States right now?

KOCIOLEK: To be honest, those estimates that they presented a week ago seemed much too high with what they projected for omicron to have increased, so the amount of delta that we have and with ho transmissible delta had. I'm not surprised to see that Lurie and the estimate. For all practical purposes, I'm not sure that number --

AVLON: All right. It looks like --

COLLINS: He was saying there, John -- unfortunately we lost him and we wanted to keep asking questions. He was saying he is not sure how much significance the CDC changing those numbers and the estimates. And I do think also it shows the delta variant is still fueling a lot of the surges that we are seeing in cases. And so it's not just omicron that people ought to be concerned about. It is still delta variant, which, of course, we know was dominant in the U.S. and in so many other countries for so long that was such a major issue.

And I do want to remind viewers, we have an interview with the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, coming up to answer questions not just about those new numbers, about everything that you want to know about the new CDC guidance, about these pediatric hospitalizations. And so we will have that coming up for you shortly.

AVLON: Lots of questions for her. And the Senate lost an icon overnight. Harry Reid, one of the longest serving Senate majority leaders in the history of the United States, has died at 82. Landra Reid said her husband died peacefully after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

The soft spoken but combative Democrat rose from a hard scrub (ph) of life in Searchlight, Nevada, to the pinnacle of power in Washington, spearheading two epic legislative battles, the Affordable Care Act and the Economic Stimulus Package, both landmark victories for Democrats under President Obama.

COLLINS: And tributes are just pouring in led by former President Barack Obama. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were recalling their friendships with Harry Reid. And today, flags at the Capitol will be lowered to half staff in his honor.

CNN's Dana Bash, who talked to Harry Reid many times, has more on his life and his legacy.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): He led Democrats in the Senate for a decade, but Harry Reid called one of his proudest accomplishments the impact he had on presidential history, encouraging Barack Obama to run.

FMR. SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): I did call him into my office and told him he should take a look at it. And he was stunned that I was the first one that ever suggested that to him. When he was re-elected, that was one of the most moving phone calls I've ever received, because he said you're the reason I'm here.

BASH: He spearheaded epic legislative battles, like Obamacare with a scrappy style he learned during his impoverished childhood. Reid was born, shaped and scarred in Searchlight, Nevada, essentially a truck stop outside Las Vegas. He grew up in this shack with no running water where this trailer now sits. He took us there in 2006. His mother did laundry for the local brothels. His dad always looking for work as a miner. Both drank heavily.

During that 2006 visit to Searchlight, he casually pointed out where his father took his own life at 58 years old.

REID: This house right here, that last room is a bedroom. That's where he killed himself.

BASH: He fought his way out of poverty as a boxer. As a politician, he was never afraid to punch below the belt. He even took on the mob as a young politician in Las Vegas.

A wide variety of adjectives have been written about you.

REID: Some good, some bad.

BASH: Some good, some bad, let me just read a few. Scrappy, tough, blunt, canny behind the scenes mastermind, ruthless. Are all those fair?

REID: Well, that's what people think, and that's what they think. They're entitled to their opinion.

BASH: As Senate Democratic leader, Reid was a polarizing figure.


Republicans argued a lot of congressional gridlocks stemmed from his hardball tactics.

REID: -- seen the turning of the tide --

BASH: But he reveled in playing the political bad guy, calling then- President George W. Bush a loser and a liar well before politicians used those L words.

REID: I don't really care. I don't want to be somebody I'm not.

BASH: During the Trump presidency, however, Reid changed his tune about Bush.

REID: In hindsight, I wish every day for a George Bush again. I think that he and I had our difference, but no one ever questioned his patriotism. There is no question in my mind that George Bush would be Babe Ruth in this league that he is in with Donald Trump. Donald Trump wouldn't make the team.

BASH: In 2012, he used the Senate floor to accuse Mitt Romney of not paying his taxes, even though he had no evidence.

REID: He has refused to release his tax returns, as we know. Let him prove that he has paid taxes, because he hasn't.

No I don't regret that at all.

BASH: Some people even called it McCarthyite.

REID: Well, they can call it whatever they want. He didn't win, did he?

BASH: Years later, Reid did ask to meet with Romney to make amends.

REID: We shook hands and put stuff behind us.

BASH: Why was it so important to tie up that loose end?

REID: I try to do that with everybody.

BASH: Reid also inspired fierce loyalty from many of his longtime aides, as well as fellow senators, not all out of fear but affection. He often told colleagues he loved them, even in public.

REID: I love you, John Kerry.

BASH: He had a storybook romance with his wife, Landra, his high school sweetheart. The two converted to Mormonism together when they married.

REID: She had a pair of Levis yesterday, I said, man, she looks so good.

BASH: That's amazing.

REID: But it's true.

BASH: In January 2015, Reid, a workout addict, who ran numerous marathons, had a brutal exercise accident that left him severely bruised and blind in one eye. It cemented his decision to retire. A few years later, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The effects of chemo made it hard for him to walk. We went to see him in Las Vegas.

REID: That is one of my keepsakes from Donald Trump.

BASH: Never any complaints.

REID: I'm doing fine. I'm busy. I work quite hard.

BASH: Reid was an unlikely political leader in today's media age, soft spoken and gaffe prone. But he played the inside game like no one could.

REID: I didn't make it in life because my athlete prowess. I didn't make it because of my good looks. I didn't make it because I'm a genius. I made it because I worked hard.

One of the things that I hope that people will look back at me and say, if Harry Reid can make it, I can.


AVLON: I love that.

Joining us now, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and former Senior Adviser and Deputy Communications Director to Reid Jose Parra.

Dana, that was an unbelievable package you did and the conversations with Reid. I wonder, in personal terms, when you covered him behind the scenes, what were the secret to his success in that inside game and tell us the things about what people may not have seen about Harry Reid behind the scenes?

BASH: Yes. Well, one of the big secrets is that he -- when he gave somebody his word, he kept it. And he was a bit abrupt. I was talking to one of his former colleagues last night who was joking about the fact that he would just hang up the phone and not say goodbye. And the first couple of times he would do that, people would be put off and say did I make him off, and then they realized that was just Reid. But he really engendered fierce loyalty because of the fact that he kept his word.

And one of the things that I did want to say that people might not realize about him is that he was very much ahead of his time when it comes to having a family-friendly office. First of all, he loved having strong women work for him. He had a lot of them in senior positions pretty early on. And, second of all, when those women got married and had families, there were a lot of offices where it's just so intense that the women decide, I want to go do something else that is more family friendly. He would say, no, I want you to stay. You just get your work done and make sure that you're there even by phone when I need you. And you come and go as you want based on what you need to do for your family.

That was unheard of when he started to do that. And I know so many stories from women who stayed with him for so long because he made that environment work for them.

COLLINS: And, Jose, you know him about as well as pretty much anyone.


And so I just wonder, we often talk about this kind of tactician that he was and how he operated behind the scenes. Even Republicans are like they give him credit for the work that he did. So, I'm wondering what it was like to watch that from behind the scenes?

JOSE PARRA, SENIOR ADVISER AND DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR TO SEN. HARRY REID (voice over): It was -- well, first of all, it was an honor to have worked with him for the time I worked with him for about six years. He -- as you said, he was a tremendous tactician. And he built that on relationships and his knowledge of the Senate role. So, he was able maneuver with the Senate (INAUDIBLE) his colleagues could. And also that concept of loyalty, making sure that it was a two-way street, he would reward that quite well both with staff and with the senators who worked with him.

And at the same time, he was able to negotiate even though his demeanor seemed to be that of a tough guy who would give no ground. He also had the ability to cut -- I remember from the ACA, when they called him abruptly and came back, when he tried to deal with the senator from Nebraska in order to get to the amount of 60 that we needed in the Senate.

AVLON: Dana, look, Reid, legendarily tough. You could see from your conversations with him. Genuinely didn't care what people thought about him. Now this legendary Horatio Alger rise from Nevada, this is sort of Dickensian tough growing up. But also he was very progressive on mental health. You say he was ahead of his time. Tell us how his father's death from suicide helped shaped him and let him to help others.

BASH: Yes. Well, you saw in the piece, he was very matter of fact about that, just like he was pretty much about everything when I went to see him. It was just before he became majority leader. It was just about this time of the year in 2006. And we were driving by. And he said, oh, that's where my father killed himself. And he talked a lot about it, not just in private but in public early on, John, testifying even before committees in order to try to break the stigma of mental health, which was -- which is a big deal then. It was 15, 20, 25 years ago. And it was because of what he witnessed in his own family with his own father and others in his family who had mental health challenges. And he wanted to use his position to tell the world this shouldn't have a stigma to it. This happens in every family, including my own, and we need to deal with it.

COLLINS: And, Jose, I wonder about, of course, something we talk about so much now is the filibuster. And this will be part of his enduring legacy, is the changes to the filibuster rules for nominees and how that shaped so much of what we see even now today. And I know he often -- he told Dana, I believe, he had no regrets about that. And so how was that a decision that he made?

PARRA (voice over): Well, first of all, McConnell's M.O. during the entire Obama presidency was to obstruct everything that the president proposed and did. And as a matter of fact, you all remember when McConnell said that his one mission was to ensure Barack Obama was not re-elected in 2012. So, when Reid saw this and he saw the level of obstruction that McConnell was leveling against the president, including the nomination of judges, judicial nominations, he felt that we needed to lead that inference to the judiciary. And if McConnell was going to play hardball with him, he was going to play hardball as well. He came up with that decision, and like he never regretted it, he never looked back.

COLLINS: And I know Eric Holder in his tribute said the Democrats could maybe a little more like Harry Reid today, and we will see how that looks. Dana, Jose, thank you both for joining us to talk about the life and legacy of Harry Reid.

BASH: Thanks, guys.

PARRA: Thank you.

AVLON: We're also remembering football giant John Madden this morning. We've got much more on his life and legacy, next.

COLLINS: Plus, what's behind the CDC's new five-day isolation policy if you're asymptomatic? The CDC director will join us live.



COLLINS: News that has just rocked the football world this morning with the legendary NFL coach and beloved analyst John Madden has passed away unexpectedly at age 85. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had this to say about Madden, quote, nobody loved football more than Coach. He was football. He was an incredible sounding board to me and so many others. And there will never be another John Madden. We will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.

Joining us now to talk about this loss is CNN Sports Analyst and USA Today Sports Columnist Christine Brennan. And so, Christine, I think obviously this is something that shocked the football world. They are just devastated. And you've seen the tributes just pour in, talking about the legacy that he has, because he was not just a football player or a football coach, he also turned that into this amazing broadcasting career that he had.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: And, Kaitlan, with his incredible career, he basically dragged Americans into loving the NFL even more than they already did. And he brought the nation along at a time when the league was exploding.


The entire length of John Madden's career is also the time when NFL basically became our national pastime, when you think of the Super Bowl being basically a national holiday, where, on Sundays, people stopped what they were doing and watch a football game or two. It became not only sports but cultural.

And John Madden led the way. He was larger than life figuratively, literally, a kind, gentleman, but every man, just a good guy, a warm, compassionate person, who, with his telestrator, drawing circles and his exclamations and waving his arms all around. He was your next door neighbor. He was the guy you could talk to. And no wonder he was in your living room or you family room bringing football to you at the most important time for the NFL as it was growing and gaining in stature and, of course, the appeal that it has now with American sports fans

AVLON: And you're so right, Christine. And that's why he was so beloved, right? He was your next-door neighbor. He could make everything accessible. He was an evangelist for the sport from video games back to his time on air and coaching.

But I want to focus on his coaching because that actually sometimes gets overlooked. Remarkable record, youngest NFL coach, retires at 42, during ten seasons with the Raiders, he breaks playoff eight times, compiles a record of over 100 wins and just 30 odd losses in that period. Tell us more about his record as a coach in addition to the personality folks felt they knew from their T.V. screens.

BRENNAN: That's so important, John, because there are so many people who are, let's say, 30, 20, whatever, who only know him because of his -- the commercials or, of course, the game, the Madden game. There was this incredibly coach and some incredible life, hall of fame career just on coaching. As you said, ten years, he was the youngest NFL coach, 32, retires from coaching at 42. Most coaches are just getting started. He won the Super Bowl, of course.

And that Raiders team was iconic. It was a group of renegades, tough guys. He would let them live their lives Monday through Saturday because he knew on Sunday he would have their best. They loved him. They relied on him. He relied on them. And that was a feared group in the silver and black, those Oakland Raiders. And he got the best out of them every single week while respecting them and letting them be who they were, in some cases reviled and despised, nonetheless one of the greatest collection of players ever. COLLINS: He also just had this great attitude. That comment where he made, where he said he never worked a day in his life. Whether he was a player, a coach, a broadcaster, he never felt like he worked a day in his life because he had so much fun. And that was obvious to all of us who listened to him and loved listening to him. And, obviously, he is going to be incredibly missed in that football world.

And so, Christine Brennan, thank you so much for joining us to remember his legacy this morning.

BRENNAN: Thank you, my pleasure. Take care.

AVLON: Absolutely.

All right, next, the U.S. and Russia sitting down for security talks in just a matter of days. Will that help ease tensions over Ukraine?

COLLINS: And those long lines for COVID testing in the U.S., they are still wrapped around the block in some places. Should health officials have seen this coming?