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U.S. And Russian Officials To Hold Security Talks On January 10; U.S. Hits New Record Average Daily Cases As Omicron Surges; Mom: 14-Year-Old Killed By Stray LAPD Bullet "Died In My Arms". Aired 7:30- 8a ET

Aired December 29, 2021 - 07:30   ET




JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. and Russian officials are set to hold security talks beginning a week from Monday. Tensions have been growing for months over thousands of Russian troops amassed at the Ukraine border. The Russian Defense Ministry says many of those troops are now gone and Moscow wants guarantees that NATO will not expand further to the east or let Ukraine join the alliance.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand is covering the story from Washington, D.C., and Nic Robertson is in Moscow. It's good to see you both.

Natasha, what are the expectations for these talks on both sides of the divide?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, John. Well, the U.S. is hoping that they can figure out a solution to this diplomatically with the Russians as the Russians, of course, continue to build up their military presence along the Ukrainian border and kind of reach that boiling point there. So they're hoping that in January, when they sit down for these bilateral talks with Russian officials, that there are things that can be worked out.

So the Russians, obviously, have their demands. They don't want NATO to expand further east. They don't want Ukraine to be a member of NATO. And the U.S. has said that certain aspects of the Russian demands are just non-starters and that the Russians know that. And President Biden has said, of course, that Russia should not be able to dictate who is and is not a member of NATO.

So they're going into these talks already with things very tense and it remains to be seen what the U.S. is willing to give and what the Russians are willing to give in order to deescalate the situation at the border there.

Now, the Ukrainians, of course, are kind of stuck in the middle of all of this. They have been briefed repeatedly by the United States on very alarming intelligence about the Russians' intentions and how Russia is potentially preparing for a very largescale conflict.

So, the U.S. is really hoping to buy some time here, hoping that things will come down to a simmer when they do meet with the Russians in January. But it remains to be seen what the Russians' intentions actually are and whether they are going to be negotiating in good faith.

AVLON: Sure, and that's always the question.

Nic, let's talk about Russia's intentions. You are in Moscow. Putin has been ramping up very warlike rhetoric around Ukraine and the West in recent weeks. At the same time, recently, they seem to have withdrawn 10,000 troops from the Ukrainian border.

What do you believe is Putin's end game in this with this buildup of rhetoric and military, but returning to a table to have talks with the Biden administration?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, this really gets to that fundamental difference between the way Russia views the situation and the way the United States and NATO allies view the situation. And not just in terms of what NATO's intent is or what Russia's intent is, but the very way that they negotiate.


You know, we've heard from U.S. officials saying that yes, we can reach agreement on some points on this. We're going to put our issues on the table as well, but very likely, we're going to walk away with disagreements. We're kind of used to that in the West that yes, let's agree to differ on this issue. Let's not get into the small minutia of it.

We differ on Ukraine. Ukraine's its own country. Let's just park that part of the issue there.

Russia's coming at this from a different perspective. Russia's coming at this from the perspective of Ukraine and what NATO plans to do there are a black and white issue for us. We need to have clarity.

You know, from a Russian perspective, Putin wants to know with legal guarantees that NATO isn't going to expand. And if this is a point of contention the U.S. and the Europeans feel that there can be a degree of ambiguity over. Russia's feeling is no, that's not the case. We really have to have clarity on this issue. So even the sort of negotiating styles if you like, or the views of a broad outcome are different here.

I think key for Putin is what he can sell at home domestically. And as he has huge influence over the media here -- ever-growing influence, it has to be said -- the way that he can message what he gets out of the talks, he can be quite powerful in shaping that message. But he does need to walk away with something and has set a very high standard. And not only has he set a high standard, but he's really pushed and pushed and pushed in the most extreme way to have these talks in an urgent manner.

It's difficult to see that both sides are going to get satisfaction here. AVLON: Very difficult to see but we'll see if that emphasis on talks is actually perhaps more of what he wants than an actual invasion of Ukraine. But good faith is the key issue.

Natasha, I want to end this with you because Biden said there is no discussion about Ukraine without Ukraine at the table. But Ukraine's not going to be at the table in these talks, so how do they manage that?

BERTRAND: That's right. So, when I spoke to a White House official yesterday I asked about this because Ukraine is actually not a party to two out of three bodies that are going to be meeting in January to discuss Ukraine's future. To discuss NATO expansion and whether they will become a member of NATO one day or of whether that's a Russian red line. And the official said they will be consulted every step of the way.

Essentially, what's going to happen is these talks are going to take place and Ukraine is going to be meeting on the sidelines and talking on the sidelines with the U.S. and consulted about what -- about the substance of the talks. So, Ukraine will not be left out of these discussions entirely but, of course, they are hesitant to be happy about that because they feel like they should be at the table when their own future is discussed.

Now, the U.S. obviously thinks that it's going to be helpful to have bilateral discussions with the Russians. And that is, of course, what Russia has been wanting as well, pushing for just a sit-down one-on- one conversation with U.S. officials. But when these meetings expand later on in the month then Ukraine, especially when they sit down with OSCE -- they will have a seat at that table.

But this is going to be a process by which Ukraine is involved, even if they're not involved directly.

AVLON: Some attempt to learn from recent history perhaps.

Natasha Bertrand, Nic Robertson, we'll have much more of this in the coming days and weeks. Thank you very much.

All right, up next, new isolation rules for people who test positive for COVID. The CDC director is standing by to tell us about the science behind that decision. That's coming up.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. just broke its seven-day average of new coronavirus cases as the new Omicron variant accounts for nearly 60 percent of cases in the U.S. now, according to the CDC.

Joining us now is the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Doctor Walensky, thank you for being here with us this morning.

And I want to start with the change in the CDC guidance that cuts the isolation period in half if you're asymptomatic. So how did the CDC settle on five days for everyone?


So we looked at several areas of science here.

First, the science of how much transmission happens in the period of time after you're infected. We know that the most amount of transmission occurs in those one to two days before you develop symptoms and those two to three days after you develop symptoms. And if you map that out, those five days account for somewhere between 85 to 90 percent of all transmission that occurs.

So we really wanted to make sure that during those first five days you -- were spent in isolation. That's when most of it occurs.

And then there is, of course, this tail end period of time in those last five days, which we're asking you to mask.

But the other things that we were looking at is the epidemiology here. We are seeing and expecting even more cases of this Omicron variant. Many of those cases are mildly symptomatic if not asymptomatic, and especially among those who are vaccinated and unvaccinated.

And then finally, the behavioral science. What will people actually do when people need to get back to work? What is it that they will actually do? And if we can get them to isolate we do want to make sure that they're isolating in those first five days when they're maximally infectious.

COLLINS: So from what you're saying it sounds like this decision had just as much to do with business as it did with the science.

WALENSKY: Well -- so it really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate. We have seen relative low rates of isolation for all of this pandemic. Some science has demonstrated less than a third of people are isolating when they need to.

And so, we really want to make sure that we had guidance, in this moment where we were going to have a lot of disease, that could be adhered to. That people were willing to adhere to, and that spoke specifically to when people were maximally infectious.


So it really spoke to both behaviors as well as what people were able to do.

COLLINS: Well -- so then I guess the question is if this is based on science that you already had at the CDC, why didn't you make this change sooner than this week?

WALENSKY: Well -- so our guidance was conservative before. It had said 10 days of isolation. But in the context of the fact that we were going to have so many more cases and many of those would be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, people would feel well enough to be at work. They would not necessarily tolerate being home and that they may not comply with being home. It -- this was the moment that we needed to make that decision and those changes.

COLLINS: The U.K. has also shortened its period of isolation to seven days, but with a negative test on day six and day seven -- a negative rapid test.

Why didn't the CDC recommend taking a rapid test after those five days?

WALENSKY: Yes, really important question.

So we do, just to be clear, recommend having a rapid test during your period of quarantine after you've been exposed. But we opted not to have that --

COLLINS: But for isolation?

WALENSKY: -- period -- that rapid test -- for isolation, exactly. We opted not to have the rapid test for isolation because we actually don't know how our rapid tests perform and how well they predict whether you're transmissible during the end of disease. The FDA has not authorized them for that use. We don't know how they perform.

So what we said was well, if you got a rapid test at five days and it was negative, we weren't convinced that you weren't still transmissible. We didn't want to leave a false sense of security. We still wanted you to wear the mask. And if it was positive, we still know the maximum amount of transmission was behind you. We still wanted you to wear a mask.

And given that we were not going to change our recommendations based on the result of that rapid test, we opted not to include it.

COLLINS: So if that's the case, then why when a few days ago when the CDC changed its guidance for healthcare workers when it comes to isolating, they said if you were asymptomatic you could go back to work after seven days with a negative test. So why would healthcare workers, just a few days ago, need a negative test but now everyone doesn't?

WALENSKY: Yes, really important question.

So I want to be very clear that our infection control recommendations in the healthcare workplace are always more stringent for healthcare workers than they are for the general population. And, of course, these healthcare workers are treating immunocompromised patients. They're treating patients who have underlying medical conditions who are at very high risk of COVID and may very well be severely ill.

So in all of our areas of infection control, we are always much more conservative with our healthcare workers than we are with the general population.

COLLINS: Did the shortage of rapid tests that we're seeing play a role in this decision? WALENSKY: No. This decision, really from the isolation standpoint, had everything to do with the fact that we wouldn't change our guidance based on the result of that rapid test. And you know that it didn't have anything to do with any shortage at all because we recommend rapid tests for those in quarantine.

COLLINS: Well, on testing, I do think the administration deserves credit this week for saying that yes, the U.S. is not where they need to be when it comes to testing. I mean, I covered the former administration where the former president said of the CDC in March of 2020 that everyone who wanted a test could get a test. That was not true then. And, of course, now people still cannot get rapid tests easily.

And so, when is everyone going to be able to walk into a drugstore -- in January, specifically -- and be able to pick up one of those rapid tests?

WALENSKY: Right. The government is doing a lot and we have the need to do more and I think that was articulated this week.

We have a half-billion more rapid tests coming in the month of January. And I think, really in the context of this Omicron surge not just here but across the world, there is a global shortage of rapid tests.

COLLINS: OK, a shortage of rapid tests. But even once they are back on shelves, which Dr. Fauci has said would happen in January, they're still pretty expensive. And I don't think it's been very clear from the administration why they're not free or basically free if you do want people doing as much testing as the administration has recommended.

WALENSKY: Right. So we now have 20,000 sites where you can get a PCR on-site, and more and more federal new testing sites coming online in the current moment. The administration is doing a lot to make sure that those rapid tests are affordable and accessible. And I know with this bringing of half a billion rapid tests that are coming in January there will be free rapid tests at sites so people can easily access them.

COLLINS: Yes. I think affordable, though, really does depend on your definition of it because they can be $25.00 for a box of two tests.

But I do want to ask you before we let you go, two quick questions.

One, the CDC has revised its estimate of how much Omicron is in the U.S. right now pretty significantly from what the CDC said. So what is the change in this?

WALENSKY: Right, really important question.


So what we do is we take the genomic surveillance data that we have and we do predictive modeling in order to assess and estimate the prevalence of Omicron. Of course, early in Omicron when we have really rapid speed, those predictive estimates can be less stable, and that's what happened in this period of time. So we have revised our estimates. We've done so transparently.

And -- but I think the important thing to note here is that there are areas of this country that have 20 percent Omicron. There are areas of this country that have 90 percent of cases of Omicron. And what we have seen and what our predictions have demonstrated is that this is a rapidly increasing variant in the United States.

COLLINS: It is a rapidly increasing variant. I think that's why sequencing is so important to so many people to know, of course, where it is and how much of it is here.

Also, parents are paying very close attention to this rise in pediatric hospitalizations that we've been seeing. Luckily, most of them are not severe cases.

But I'm wondering if you have an update for parents on when kids under 16 are going to be able to get a booster shot, and when kids under five are going to be able to get vaccinated at all.

WALENSKY: Right. So, the first thing to note is to get your children vaccinated. We have vaccines available between the ages -- above the age of five. The FDA is currently looking at the issue of booster shots for those 12 to 15. And I know that the companies and manufacturers are working towards data for children under five. That will not be in the month ahead but we're working hard to get there soon.

COLLINS: Do you know the timeline for boosters? Because I think parents have asked if my child who is of that age of 12 to 15 can get vaccinated, why can't they get a third shot given the heightened concern that we're seeing right now?

WALENSKY: Yes, absolutely. So, the FDA is looking at that right now. Of course, the CDC will swiftly follow as soon as we hear from them and I'm hoping to have that in the days to weeks ahead.

COLLINS: OK, so days to weeks ahead, potentially, for booster shots for those under 16. You said not in the next month for those under five for vaccinations overall.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, thank you for joining us this morning on all of this.

WALENSKY: Thank you so much for having me, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Next, the family of the 14-year-old girl killed during a police shooting in Los Angeles is speaking out. Hear what they're saying.


[07:56:01] AVLON: A family is breaking their silence after their 14-year-old daughter lost her life in the dressing room of a Burlington Coat Factory to a stray bullet from the gun of an LAPD officer. It all happened two days before Christmas and now, the family is calling for justice and transparency.

Joining us now is the attorney representing Valentina Orellana- Peralta's family, Benjamin Crump. Good to see you, sir.

First, we've all heard that Valentina's family came to America seeking safety. So, tell us how they're holding up right now.

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR VALENTINA ORELLANA-PERALTA'S FAMILY: They're devastated, John Avlon. Christmas will never be the same for them.

Just as her father said, his heart was ripped out of him. He hasn't had a decent night's sleep since it happened. And her poor mother. To have your child die in your arms at a shopping mall buying a dress for Christmas because of a police bullet from the LAPD, they are in complete disbelief.

AVLON: It is a heartbreaking tragedy.

And the LAPD did release the officer's bodycam footage quickly. And we spoke to retired Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey when the footage was released, who said that it indicated to her that this was a tragedy, certainly, but there was no indication of improper officer conduct to her eyes.

Do you believe the LAPD used excessive force in this instance?

CRUMP: I think that they have training for these type of situations. And, John Avlon, put yourself in the shoes of these parents whose daughter ended up as collateral damage from the LAPD engaging in this suspect -- this manner.

Is it foreseeable that there will be shoppers in a shopping plaza two days before Christmas? I think everybody knows that there were going to be innocent people, so they should have taken every reasonable precaution to make sure that an innocent person like this 14-year-old little angel, Valentina, wasn't shot and killed two days before Christmas.

AVLON: Well, let's talk about that because the footage does indicate the second floor appeared to be empty. You had this incredibly violent assault by the person who was shot by the police in the course of killing young Valentina.

You have said, though, that this tragedy is foreseeable so close to Christmas and things could have gone differently. Just tell us a little bit more how could it have been foreseeable to the officers at that moment given what they were able to literally see.

CRUMP: Well, several experts have weighed in besides Ms. Dorsey, and they all have said where were the verbal commands? You saw the person going away from the victim. Was there anybody in the vicinity? Why did you have to shoot in the store? Could you have used less intrusive measures than this rifle that you knew was going to be powerful?

How many shots hit the person and how many didn't because a police officer has to take all of that into account when you're shooting inside of a shopping center, for God's sakes.

AVLON: It is certainly a heartbreaking tragedy and our love and sympathy go out to Valentina's family as they confront a new year without their daughter.

Benjamin Crump, thank you so much for joining us on NEW DAY.

NEW DAY continues --

CRUMP: Thank you, John Avlon.

AVLON: -- right now.

Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, December 29th. I'm John Avlon with the great Kaitlan Collins, wishing you all a very good morning as Berman and Brianna enjoy a well-deserved week off.

COLLINS: Very well-deserved.

AVLON: We are following three major stories this morning.