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Michigan Not Adopting New CDC Guidelines as Hospitalizations Rise Researcher: Omicron Antibodies May Help Defend Against Delta; Jury Finds Ghislaine Maxwell Guilty on 5 Counts; Biden to Speak with Putin at Russian Leader's Request. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired December 30, 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 is Thursday, December 30. I'm Kaitlan Collins, in with John Avlon this morning. And Brianna and John are off today.


JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST/ANCHOR: Good morning. Two days to 2022. Let's do this.

COLLINS: Two days left.

So this morning we have got some big headlines, with the U.S. shattering its record of daily new coronavirus cases as that highly- contagious Omicron variant spreads rapidly throughout the country, ahead of the new year.

Nationwide, daily new cases hitting a record seven-day average of more than 300,000 cases this week. The last time the number of cases hit a peak close to that was in January.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is strongly recommending against celebrating New Year's Eve by going to large parties. And essentially, he says, don't be hugging, don't be kissing, don't be doing any of that celebrating that normally comes with New Year's.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If your plans are to go to a 40- to 50-person New Year's Eve party with all the bells and whistles, and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a happy new year, I would strongly recommend that this year we do not do that.


AVLON: Not the year for hugging and kissing at midnight. All right.

There's also been growing pushback from frontline workers to the new CDC guidelines, cutting the amount of suggested days to isolate and quarantine in half. Now, the American Nurses Association says it is deeply concerned about the changes, citing insufficient evidence and concern for healthcare workers' safety. The flight attendant union also raising a red flag.

Michigan is one of several states hitting pandemic peak hospitalizations this month. The state's Department of Health now says it will not be adopting the shorter isolation and quarantine guidelines until it reviews this evidence, while it wants more information from the CDC, specifically for populations in high-risk settings.

Michigan's health officials say this is not the time to relax.

All right.

COLLINS: Let's get to CNN's Polo Sandoval. He has more for us. Polo, what are you seeing this morning?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kaitlan, we heard on air just yesterday from the chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital, saying that the spread of Omicron is unlike anything he's ever seen before.

And as you point out, pointed out a little while ago, we are now averaging well over 300,000 new COVID cases a day. That's a new pandemic high.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): A wave of new COVID cases hitting the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unlike anything we've ever seen.

SANDOVAL: As the CDC predicts more than 44,000 people could die of COVID in the next four weeks. Hospitalizations are predicted to increase for the sixth straight week as the pandemic rages on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're experiencing right now is an absolute overwhelming of the emergency departments.

SANDOVAL: Data shows the Omicron variant may cause less severe illness than Delta, but hospitals are still being inundated with new patients, and many of them unvaccinated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Inside the hospital, we're seeing an increase in admissions that is startling. So to hear that Omicron is different and is not causing immense illness in people is not what we're seeing on the ground.

SANDOVAL: As the number of new cases skyrocketed to another record high on Wednesday, some health officials scrambled to defend the CDC's decision to cut its recommended isolation and quarantine times in half for asymptomatic people.

FAUCI: The judgment that the CDC made was, all things considered, what people would be able to implement. There is risk in everything when it comes to SARS-COV-2. That's just the reality.

SANDOVAL: The CDC tied the new timeline to transmissibility.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: The vast majority of your transmissible time is in those first five days.

SANDOVAL: But it provided no data to back that claim. Another key criticism leveled at the CDC director: why additional testing was not a requirement to come out of isolation.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: If we had a massive amount of tests in our communities now, would you have included testing in your algorithm? And I'd be shocked if she said no.

SANDOVAL: The CDC says it's not clear at-home tests can tell whether a person is likely to transmit the virus to others.

FAUCI: There's no evidence that it has any predictive value.

SANDOVAL: Most experts concede the guidance is not perfect, but it's an acceptable compromise to allow the country to function.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH HAND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: So what the CDC, in part, was trying to do was not to somehow play to the economy. It was to play to the very safety of our everyday lives.

SANDOVAL: And the situation is only expected to get more critical, with New Year's Eve only a day away.


SANDOVAL: And here in New York City, the COVID-related disruptions, they still continue this morning, Kaitlan, with about 30 percent of EMS workers out. Seventeen percent of firefighters, according to an FDNY spokesperson.

And when you look at the numbers compared to last week, Kaitlan, that's nearly double of where we were back then. So really, what we're hearing from emergency officials here in New York City, pleading with people that, unless it's an emergency, dial 311 versus 911.


COLLINS: It's just surprising to see that we are back to where they're advising what number you should be calling, given just the influx of the new cases.

Polo, thank you.

SANDOVAL: Thanks, Kaitlan.

AVLON: Now for something different, or at least potentially positive news.

A new study out of South Africa showing that people who have recovered from the Omicron variant may be more resistant to infection from the Delta variant. The researcher who led the study saying, "Maybe pushing Delta out is

actually a good thing, and we're looking at something we can live with more easily and that will disrupt us less than the previous variants."

Joining us now is the researcher, Alex Sigal. He's a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute.

Professor, thanks so much for joining us. Tell us what you mean exactly about Omicron potentially pushing the Delta variant out?

ALEX SIGAL, VIROLOGIST, AFRICA HEALTH RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Well, what we're seeing is that people who are infected with Omicron, and of course, in South Africa, we're a few weeks ahead of the U.S.

In these people, we're checking their immunity to both Omicron and Delta. What we are seeing is, yes, they're picking up immunity to Omicron, as you would expect. But also, their immunity to the Delta variant is enhanced.

Now, our experience in South Africa was that this -- the Omicron is extremely transmissible. So a lot of people got infected, and therefore, you know, the hospitals were full. But per person, it did cause milder disease than the previous variant, which was Delta.

So having enhanced immunity to Delta may be a good thing.

COLLINS: And Professor, the argument essentially here, based on what we're looking at from this study, which still has to be peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal, of course, is that in the short-term, Omicron is causing all of these issues. Of course, that is very clear. We don't even need to go into that.

But you're saying in the longer term, it could be of benefit.

SIGAL: I'm sorry. I lost you -- I lost the -- the question.

COLLINS: I think the argument is essentially that what you're seeing here and what you're finding in this is that, in the short-term, Omicron is causing all these issues. It is obviously hurting people and driving up the case numbers, but in the long term, it could end up being more beneficial, when it comes to, as you had phrased it, pushing Delta out?

SIGAL: Yes. So I don't think you can call any variant beneficial, but you're getting maybe the best of the worst.

It's something like, you know, when you're fighting a bushfire. You have something called a backburn, where you're basically eliminating the fuel for the fire by burning it. And that's more or less what Omicron may be doing to Delta.

AVLON: That's a vivid and useful metaphor.

I want to ask you, though, the sample size in this is very small. This is an initial study. It's around 13 people. So we need to state that and whether you have any concerns about drawing too many conclusions from that sample size.

But overall, in addition to that, what surprised you most about this variant and how it's different from Delta?

SIGAL: Well, it is a small study. We've -- we've done these kinds of small studies before. They tend to reflect what happens. Maybe not the exact quantitative level of what happens, but the general trends, you know, tends to be reflected, because people are not that different from each other.

Now as far as kind of whether this was a big surprise. Yes, it was a surprise, but we thought this might happen at some point with this virus. Some viruses do this kind of thing. And now there's don'ts. So it was -- it was good news to us to see a virus, you know, becoming somewhat milder.

COLLINS: So given this was only 13 people in this study, do you plan to try to do it on a bigger scale, or what have you talked about with other scientists about similar studies to this?

SIGAL: So certainly, you know, one study is not enough. And I can guarantee that there will be a lot of other studies in the same area, which will go over the same kind of approach or slightly different approaches. And -- and see if our results are correct.

AVLON: We will await those results and hope that the trajectory and the experience you're having in South Africa reflects what we can expect here in the United States.

Alex Sigal, thank you very much.

SIGAL: Thank you.

AVLON: Up next, a jury convicted Ghislaine Maxwell on five counts for her role in the sex-trafficking trial. How many years will she now face behind bars?


COLLINS: An hour from now, President Biden will speak with Russian President Putin on the phone, amid heightened tensions over Ukraine. what they will discuss and what it could lead to.


AVLON: This morning, the former companion of Jeffrey Epstein is vowing to appeal her sex-trafficking conviction. A federal jury in Manhattan Wednesday found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of conspiring with Epstein to recruit, groom, and sexually abuse minors for at least a decade.

CNN's Sonia Moghe joins us now to explain this and more. Sonia.

SONIA MOGHE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So Ghislaine Maxwell could face up to 65 years in prison for these crimes, which the federal prosecutor's office here in Manhattan called some of the worst crimes imaginable. And yesterday when that verdict came down, so many survivors of this

abuse by both Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell spoke out, saying that they were relieved, that they were thankful to this jury for convicting her of five of those six counts. You know, saying that they finally had a step toward justice.

As you know, Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide just weeks after he'd been arrested in 2019 for sex-trafficking charges himself. So these survivors were dealt such a devastating blow.

And John, it is such a difficult thing for survivors to go into court, testify about these crimes in front of someone who they say abuse them.

AVLON: It takes enormous courage. And justice needs to be followed by accountability. So now we head towards sentencing. How much time in prison is she looking at?

MOGHE: So for that sex trafficking of minors count alone, she could face up to 40 years in prison. She could face 65 years total.

And remember, Ghislaine Maxwell just turned 60 on Christmas day, spending that -- that birthday in the federal detention facility, where she's now going to be held until she gets to sentencing.

Four women have spoken out and testified against her at this trial. Many more, though, have spoken out publicly, have filed lawsuits, have spoken to investigators. So we will certainly hear more.

Ghislaine also faces two more counts of perjury in a separate case for a separate civil deposition that prosecutors say she lied in.

AVLON: We'll be watching closely. Sonia Moghe, thank you very much for joining us.

MOGHE: Thank you.

COLLINS: For more on this, let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson.


And so Joey, this morning, of course, we're looking back on this verdict. It had taken the jury several days as they were deliberating over this.

And we know that throughout the course of the trial, the defense had been really critical of the survivors' memories, their motivations for coming forward. So just how significant is this verdict for the survivors here?

JACKSON: Yes, Kaitlan. Good morning to you. Good morning, John. I think it's overwhelmingly significant. You're talking about, to your point, several days of deliberations, I believe five, in addition to 40 hours. And remember that, during the course of that time, not only do you --

you hear testimony during the trial, but when you deliberate, you have the right for what we call readback. Right? That is that you can request certain information, which they did as it related to the four then young girls, now women and what they said; as it related to at least two of those young women, you know, then girls' boyfriends, the pilots, the housekeeper, FBI agents, et cetera.

Why do I say that? I say that because, while no system is infallible, you expect the jury, and when they're trying to be in a court, remember it takes all 12, to really delve in and dig deep and determine what is factually accurate.

Remember the process, Kaitlan. The process provides for the judge really to be the person who really administers the law, gives legal instructions, makes legal rulings.

But when it comes down to a factual narrative, a factual determination, that's in the province of the jury. They assess the facts. And I just think that, when you have a system like this, you want jurors to be locked in with regard to what were the inconsistencies, if any; what were the timeline; what really happened here.

They spoke with their verdict. And that verdict indicated that, of five of six counts, Ms. Maxwell was, indeed, guilty of not only conspiring -- that means engaging with another to engage in illegality -- but in addition to that, enabling and otherwise providing, really, the necessary means for these girls to be abused by Mr. Epstein.

This jury did their job. The verdict very significant.

AVLON: Joey, I want to dig deeper into the jury's process. Because while we were waiting for this, they requested a lot of notes. This was -- it seemed to be a pretty protracted conversation they were having.

So what can you tell us about what you think was going on in the jury room and how they got to the verdict, acquitting on one but convicting on the other?

JACKSON: Yes, John, it's a great question. I think the process involved, really making an assessment as to what was true.

Remember, in any courtroom, you have a battle of the narratives. And this case was no different from that. What were the narratives battling about here?

Remember that the defense planted seeds about. The defense said that this is about these young girls, now women, having faulty memories. The defense even bringing in an expert to make that indication, that you could have false recollections. You could have things that are imbedded in your memory that change over time.

In addition to that, the defense was attacking the motivations. This is about money that they got. So I think that jury was making an assessment as to whether they could believe, they could credit and, you know, the testimony of these young women, right?

And in looking at that, what did they say to their boyfriends? Let's look at this expert. Because remember they also, John, wanted readback of that defense expert on faulty memories.

What did the pilot say? What were they doing? And so I think they really dug deep. They did that.

And just as a very brief point, remember what the counts were. The counts related to the issues with respect to conspiracy. Did she conspire with Mr. Maxwell to get these young women to go, to get these girls to go and otherwise, you know, be abused by him? Did she facilitate that? Did she provide the conditions for bringing them to Florida, bringing them to New York, bringing them to Santa Fe?

So I think it's a process. And, look, nothing is perfect, of course, but I think they did their job. They got to the bottom of it, and they really spoke a volume of what they had to say.

COLLINS: Yes. And some of them have described, like, the relationships that she tried to build with them. Taking them shopping, taking them to the movies, trying to kind of build this relationship of trust while she was also, of course, grooming them.

And Joey, I wonder if you think count six is one of the most significant here, one of the most important ones, because it does carry a max of 40 years?

JACKSON: Yes. It's very significant, and here's why.

You know, remember what this jury was doing. What they were doing in listening to these four girls, right -- Jane, Kate, and Annie Farmer, you know, Carolyn. What they were doing is determining whether or not this was really a coordinated effort as between Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein, really to bring him these women to gain, as you noted, Kaitlan, their trust through this grooming process, by taking them shopping, by really normalizing, as the prosecution said, this relationship which is far from normal.

So even as it relates to, you know, count six when you're talking about transportation of minors, et cetera, or if it relates to, you know, other counts involving conspiring or the transportation or sex trafficking of minors, this is all part of the narrative the prosecution that Ms. Maxwell was really in accordance with him in taking the young girls and abusing them in a way that is really egregious, most horrific and absolutely unfortunate.

But you know what? It was met with justice the other day in what the jury did.

AVLON: Joey Jackson, thank you very much, Counselor.

JACKSON: Always.

AVLON: Coming up, President Putin wanted a phone call to discuss complicated issues. President Biden accepted. So what this means amid rising tensions over Ukraine.

COLLINS: Plus, chaos erupting in Jordan's Parliament. Lawmakers throwing punches at one another. What in the world set these lawmakers off.


AVLON: Happening today, President Biden set to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the second time this month. That's according to an administration official. Putin requested the call.

And all this as the U.S. continues to pressure Russia to draw down its large military presence near Ukraine's border.


CNN's Natasha Bertrand is covering the story from Washington, and Nic Robertson is live in Moscow.

Natasha, do we know why Putin requested this call so urgently?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't, John. Our best guess at this point, and it is a guess, because the administration would not tell us why exactly Putin requested this call a day before New Year's Eve when it could have happened easily next week, is because there's going to be these talks on January 10th between the U.S. and Russia in Geneva to discuss what's going on on the Ukrainian border. And the two sides, the president, Biden, and President Putin, want to kind of preview those talks, want to go through a road map of what those might look like, the expectations on both sides.

But the urgency here is very interesting. And it is the second time in less than a month that President Putin and President Biden will be speak, which is pretty unusual.

But again, the circumstances here are a crisis, as one administration official put it to reporters yesterday, a crisis growing on the Ukrainian border as Russian troops continue to build up their military posture there.

Now, the talks on January 10th are not contingent, notably, upon Russia drawing down their forces. That is because the administration feels that diplomacy is the best path forward, regardless of what Russia does in the next week and a half. And they believe that that is the most responsible way to handle the situation.

But the fact that Vladimir Putin asked for this phone call at this very delicate moment is definitely notable.

COLLINS: Well, and Nic, the White House kind of says, well, when Putin asks for a call, we usually grant it. And when Biden asks for a call with him, he is similarly granted it. But this comes as the U.S. Air Force did fly a spy plane over Eastern Ukraine this week. And so what was, really, the mission behind that, besides -- besides the obvious of gathering intel? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, I mean, the Russians said they'd withdrawn 10,000 troops from that border region without providing evidence. They said they'd gone back to their permanent bases.

And you know, absent some very good and precise surveillance, it's hard to tell if those troops have actually done what the Russian authorities say they've done. It's hard to know if they've taken back their heavy military hardware, which has been prepositioned close to Ukraine for quite some time now.

So I think, you know, that flight gives you that better assessment of what's going on, and the assessment was that Russia is doing nothing to reduce the tensions.

What we have heard from the Kremlin in the last few minutes or so is that President Putin requested this phone conversation, because the -- what he describes or what the Kremlin describes as the issues ahead of both countries for these talks in January, January the 10th, are extremely complicated. That's the Kremlin's language.

The sort of sequencing as the Kremlin sees the situation. They say, look, the two presidents had a conversation back in early December, and the Russians said that they would go away and put their proposals forward. And they did that. They put out these very tough and strong and really, from NATO's perspective, unacceptable demands: that NATO does not offer membership to Ukraine, that NATO does not position troops or military hardware inside Ukraine.

So Russia, from its position, had that conversation where President -- President Biden then put forward its list of demands, if you will. Its position, as it says. And now this is, from the Kremlin's perspective, this is a follow-up phone call ahead of that January 10th meeting.

And I think also from a Russian perspective, new year is a big -- bit- time celebration here. Most people, government officials sort of clear out of the city, go to the country houses, their dashes if they have them. And because Orthodox Christmas, which is celebrated here in Russia, is on the 7th of January, you really have a big chunk of time out of the government calendar.

So, you know, perhaps having this conversation, from President Putin's perspective now so far ahead of January 10th talks has a lot to do with, you know, the Kremlin essentially being on vacation until January the 10th.

AVLON: An attempt to set the table, so to speak.

Well, Natasha, with all this happening, we do understand the U.S. has been in touch with Ukrainian President Zelensky. What can you tell us about that? Because it's Ukraine that hangs in the balance in all these conversations.

BERTRAND: Yes. Well, the White House has been very insistent here that Ukraine is not going to be left out of any of these conversations. That while they won't be at the table during many if these talks that happen in early January, they will be consulted every step of the way.

And that was demonstrated yesterday when Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Vladimir Zelensky, the president of Russia [SIC], to preview, essentially, what President Biden was going to say to President Putin today on that phone call.

Ukraine feels like it really is caught in the middle here, obviously, and they don't necessarily like being left out of these conversations between the U.S. and Russia, because they feel as though their fate is being decided without them, essentially.

And so the U.S. has really tried to convey to --