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New Day

U.S. Set to Ring in New Year Amid Virus Surge; FDA Expected to Allow Pfizer Booster for Ages 12-15; 4-Week Average of Jobless Claims Lowest in 52 Years. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 31, 2021 - 07:00   ET


COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Back after getting blasted by Bama in the SEC title game, though, right, Kaitlan?


Let's take us to the Cotton Bowl where Crimson Tide will collide with Cincinnati, the first non-Power 5 conference team to make the playoff. They are feisty. The only team to go undefeated this season, they've lost one game since 2019 and that was barely to Georgia in the bowl game last season.

Players feel shunned, often overlooked, so they play with this big chip on their shoulders. They have earned a date with the kings of college football, the fighting Kaitlan Collins, defending national champs seeking their second title under Coach Nick Saban. Alabama seemed to take a while to get up to top form this season. But they dominated Georgia earlier this month. The coach was asked if his patience was tested early on this season.

Here's what he said.


NICK SABAN, ALABAMA HEAD COACH: I don't have any patience, so anything that happens is a test of my patience, including sitting in this chair right now.


WIRE: Now, Kaitlan, I know you say you are nervous about this, but Coach Saban is smiling. He's typically stoic.

John, you said your grandfather got a scholarship to Cincy. You're rooting for the Bearcats. But it could be trouble for your boys.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Listen, I'm betting on a Cinderella story. But we will see.

Kaitlan and I are both --

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Come on, John. You have -- this week, we have been anchoring together three hours a day every day, and you're not going to root for Alabama? AVLON: This just proves that good people can disagree.

WIRE: We need a little bit here. If Kaitlan's team wins, she has to wear a Bearcats shirt. If you lose, John, I get to shave your head. Happy New Year.

AVLON: There's no way -- but you know what? Neither of that, nor a mayonnaise bath, which is a truly disgusting end to a football game.

WIRE: Too soon, John. Too soon.

COLLINS: Just to want to note that I did not consent to wearing a Cincinnati shirt.

Coy Wire, thank you so much.

WIRE: You got it.

COLLINS: NEW DAY continues right now.


AVLON: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

It is Friday, December 31st. I'm John Avlon in with Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, happy New Year's Eve.

COLLINS: Happy New Year's Eve. I can't wait to hear your resolution is later in the show

AVLON: We will trade our resolutions.

But, first, as we approach a New Year, we are still dealing with the same pandemic. 2021 coming to a close with an unprecedented spike in COVID cases fueled by the omicron variant.

Health officials urging New Year's Eve revelers to keep the party small people, outdoors, or just enjoy a glass of champagne, bourbon or beer at home.

The surge is crushing hospitals with doctors describing packed emergency rooms. Dr. Anthony Fauci predicting omicron could peak by the end of January.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is hitting a seven-day average of more than 355,000 new cases. With record case counts in New Jersey, New York, Arkansas and Chicago. Meanwhile, pediatric hospital admissions soar to go a record high with on average 378 children being admitted daily to hospital with COVID.

COLLINS: And when it comes to travel, the CDC is warning vaccinated people and unvaccinated people stay away from cruise ships. The agency elevated cruise ship travel risk to its highest level. This comes amid a growing number of outbreaks in recent weeks that's causing some ports to turn them away.

And this morning, airline disruptions are surging with more than 3,000 flight delays and 2,300 cancellations. That means those weekend flights home could be in jeopardy as thousands are now attempting to rebook. The TSA also expects 10 million people to pass through airport screening by the end of the day on Monday. I would not want to be in those lines, John.


We are also following another big story out of Colorado, where there is a state of emergency today. Thousands of people forced from their homes and hundreds of structures burnt to the ground. Because of at least two wind-fueled wildfires outside Denver.

AVLON: But, first, let's go to CNN's Polo Sandoval who is live at Times Square where, of course, it is essentially synonymous with New Year's Eve but will be different tonight, Polo.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, if you compare it with last year, then it's going to feel a little bit more like New Year's in Times Square. But because of that sharp rise in numbers, because New York state continues to beat its own record in terms of daily COVID cases, it's certainly going to be anything but a normal New Year's in Times Square when you consider the measures still in place.

For example, usually, NYPD will allow about 58,000 people to file in to Times Square to celebrate together. Not this year as you can imagine. The mayor announcing last week, it would be closer to 15,000. They will be allowed later in this afternoon versus what usually happens, when you see the crowds, the wave of revelers begin to crash into Times Square in the early morning hours. Instead, that's not happening until this afternoon.


And once they -- even before they make it to some of the various checkpoints, they're still going to have to show vaccination proof. Once the events get started, masks will be required out there. So, those just gives you a sense of all the safety measures in place to make sure things remain as safe as possible.

Remember, this is happening amid growing calls for city officials to cancel the big event. But at the end of the day, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who's term is going to be -- just a few hours left in his term as he wraps up his term in office, he says it is viable because of the high vaccination rate in New York state, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yeah. They have a very high vaccination rate there. We will see taking normal work of the pandemic.

Polo Sandoval, thank you.


COLLINS: And joining us is Dr. Jonathan Reiner, CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University.

Dr. John Reiner, you just heard Polo there talking about what tonight is going to look like. What is your view of that?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Potential super-spreader event and completely unnecessary. I sort of feel like we hit the iceberg and there are people that just want the band to keep playing. You need to think about what's happening in our hospitals in this country right now. Right now, there is basically a race to see which happens first, are we going to peak and hopefully quickly like South Africa, or are hospitals going to exceed capacity and are we going to find that we have so many hospital staff out sick that we can't function.

So, because we're in this kind of race there needs to be a sense of urgency to keep as many people as possible from getting infected. So, it just seems having a mask party when we're facing the most contagious path general that any of us have ever seen, seems unwise.

AVLON: The most contagious pathogen any of us have seen. That is a sobering statement.


AVLON: Let me ask you this, because I understand that you would not go to a restaurant. You don't think we should be going ahead, New York city should be going ahead with Times Square. But if folks are vaccinated and wearing masks, isn't that a mitigating factor?

REINER: It is. But it's impossible to wear a mask when you eat. So, for instance, so I work in a hospital, and now -- at a hospital in D.C., which has COVID as much as anyplace on the planet. Once I walk into that building, I don't take my N95 mask off until I'm back in my car. So, I won't eat in the hospital, unless I can find a secluded closet somewhere, it means I'm exposing myself to other folks.

And there's so much virus around, when you take it off or you are exposing yourself to infection. And that's how it is in restaurants now. I walked out of the hospital last night and, you know, the bar across the street was filled with people. Some of them will leave not just with a little buzz but they're going to leave with the virus.

This virus -- I mean, yesterday, the United States recorded 600,000 cases. That's just the tip of the iceberg to continue with my "Titanic" metaphor, because so many people are being tested at home. None of those tests are being reported. So, I think you can confident live say a million people a day are contracting this virus.

COLLINS: Wow. A million a day is where you think the number really is.

REINER: Almost certainly, sure.


COLLINS: And that, with he should note, it's not just people taking a test at home. Some aren't getting a test at all because it is so difficult to wait in line to get a test or wait until your drugstore has one.

And so, Dr. Reiner, I want to ask you about something else, though, which is CNN's reporting overnight, in the coming days, the FDA is expected to authorize booster shots for 12 to 15-year-olds. This is something a lot of parents have been waiting on. The thinking is if some I kid could get vaccinated why can't they get a booster shot if they're a couple months past their second vaccine shot? And so, how much of a difference do you expect this to make?

REINER: Well, I think it's important. What I would like to see the FDA and the CDC say, you're not fully vaccinated until you have had your third shot. So we are still calling this as a booster as if it's something extra. What we know about the dialing and the way the vaccines work, you don't have sustained, adequate protection until you have had the third shot.

So, let's stop calling it a booster and call it the third shot. Only half of the kids in the age group have been vaccinated.

So, parents, take your kids to get vaccinated. And then take them to get their third shot which will be almost certainly be in five months, not six months.


AVLON: Well, that's a big deal. The new baseline you think should be the booster. And it should go without saying by now, get your kids vaccinated. That's where we are seeing hospitalizations really spike.

Jonathan Reiner, thank you very much as always and happy New Year.

REINER: Happy New Year to you both.

AVLON: All right. A state of emergency in Colorado as two fast-moving wildfires destroyed hundreds of structures and sent thousands of people fleeing from their homes. Most had little warning and little time to escape.

Lucy Kafanov live in Denver with the details -- Lucy.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it's been absolutely catastrophic for Colorado. It is being described as the most destructive wildfire in Colorado state history. The expectation is with day break the numbers might rise.

This fire was incredibly fast, burning in so many places at once, fueled by 100-mile-per-hour wind gusts, moving faster than firefighters could drive at some points. The governor of the state and the Boulder County sheriff describing the magnitude of the terrifying blaze last night. Take a look.


GOV. JARED POLIS (D), COLORADO: This is a force of nature. Gusts of 100, 110 miles per hour can and have moved this fire down a football field in a matter of secretaries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody has been talking about just the crazy weather, the lack of snow and lack of moisture. Unfortunately, this is one of the results that you see from this, the dry conditions.


KAFANOV: Now, this fire was burning to the north and south of the city of Boulder. The fast winds knocking down power lines, scorching more than 1,600 acres. Thousands of families evacuated largely from the towns of Lewisville and Superior. Superior completed devastated most of the 500 homes were burned in that area, a town of 13,000 people. Lewisville, a town of more than 20,000 people, we still don't know the extent of the destruction. A lot of families are waiting to find out even if they have homes to come back to.

And just to give you some context, the most destructive up until now was the Black Forest Fire back in 2013. It destroyed 511 homes. This one is already surpassing that. A lot of folks waiting to hear if they have homes to go back to, John.

AVLON: It's just a heartbreaker. I mean,115-mile-per-hour winds, plus wildfires. And this is a devastation of a community that could be any suburban community in this country.

Lucy Kafanov, thank you very much.

Up next, America's latest report on unemployment benefits is proof that the U.S. jobs recovery is still very much in full swing.

We are joined by a White House economic adviser, next.

COLLINS: And coming up, a 50-minute phone call. The White House saying President Biden urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to ease military buildup near Ukraine. What came out of that is next.



AVLON: We got some big economic news yesterday. According to the Department of Labor, the average number of weekly jobless benefit claims is the lowest it's been since October of 1969. That's a 52-year low. Retail and restaurant sales are up as well, more than 18 percent compared to November of last year. And there are signs wages are creeping up as well.

But will it be enough to turn around the public's perception that the economy is still struggling? After all, a CNN poll from earlier this month found just 45 percent of Americans approve of the way President Biden is handling the economy.

Joining us now is a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Jared Bernstein to discuss all of this.

Jared, it's good to see you. So here's the question. You know, James Carville, famous Democratic strategist, has called the last year economic news the greatest story never told. Implicitly saying the White House hasn't told the story well enough.

But you look at the job growth, jobless claims are down. Strong numbers with wage growth, particularly among lower income workers -- how come you think there is this gap between that economic reality and the perception that things aren't getting better fast enough?

JARED BERNSTEIN, MEMBER, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Yeah. It's obviously an important question, which I will get to in a second. Let me underscore some of the points you made. Part of understanding that gap is really making sure that everyone knows the kind of progress we've made and why we've made that progress. You pointed out the last time unemployment claims were this slow, I was -- you didn't say it this way, I was a 14-year-old rocking out to proud Mary and honky talk woman. So --

AVLON: Good choice. Credence, you can never go wrong.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Exactly.

And we have 11 -- you know, this is almost more important for people coming into the job market. We have 11 million job openings, 6 million created since this president got here. Those are both historical records. And so, we have a very welcoming job market. One of the reasons that's the case is because the American rescue plan got shots in arms and checks in pockets.

When we got to the White House, less than 1 percent of adults were vaccinated. Now it's over 70 percent. Now, we have to do better. I thought your segment with the doctor was very important just a minute ago. Vax, vax, boost essential to keeping this progress going.

But, look, when you have these different strains and the kind of uncertainty that brings with it, people are going to feel somewhat unsettled. And I think the thing we have tried to do is communicated that whatever problem we face, whether it's COVID, whether it's inflation, we're going to work relentlessly on behalf of working Americans to do everything we can to ease those pressures.

COLLINS: Well, and I guess that's what I would like to ask you about next, omicron.


And this variant causing so much uncertainty we are seeing the concerns that it is going to interfere with the economic recovery. And, you know, one of our big questions is whether this high inflation will continue in 2022, what that will look like, what the landscape overall will look like.

So, what kind of factor are you looking at when you take into consideration variants and the possibility of other variants?

BERNSTEIN: Well, first of all, let's talk about your inflation question. As the president has said even a moderate amount can be a challenge to middleclass budgets. Now, one source of this inflation is an imbalance in demand for durable goods, things like computers, exercise equipment and furniture, when the pandemic hit, people ratcheted up their demand for those kinds of goods and pulled back on in-person services. That was going to disrupt supply chains. That's where our focus is right now.

We have a task force of which I am a member. And that task force is working. We have a plan for trucks, we have a plan for the ports. Our strategic release of petroleum from those reserves has contributed to a 10 percent to 14 percent decline in the cost of gas per gallon. So, again, we're doing everything we can.

When you talk about omicron, there are 90,000 places people can go to get a booster shot, right? The president is talking about half a million tests going to Americans in January. As we have said, about 200 multiple Americans vaccinated.

When with he got here, that was 1 percent for adults. Now it is 71 percent. We have to build on that progress. Our work is far from done. But the momentum is in the right direction.

AVLON: I think, as you indicate, the baseline economic news is being clouded by COVID, a new wave, and inflation. So, you talked about the supply chains there. But what are you all doing to get inflation under control? And n when Joe Manchin said he can't support Build Back Better because he's concerned the additional spending will add to inflation, what's your answer to that in real terms?

BERNSTEIN: Sure. OK. So, first of all, let's be very concrete about this. What is the main price that people see when they're driving down the street typically twice per block, that's the price of gas. On my jogging route every day, I go by a station and I check it out every day. So, I'm tracking this on many different levels.

And what we have seen is that nationally the price of gas is down 10 percent to 14 percent, depends on where you are, per gallon. Those are real savings for America. Now, part of that is a response to a coordinated release of petroleum reserves from our country and other countries organized by this president.

At the same time, you know, people talked about how Christmas was going to be a bust because goods weren't going to flow through ports. Christmas was not a bust. You mentioned retail sales are historically high. Our work in the ports and with the trucking have shown real results in terms of getting these goods ship to shelf and helping Americans have the kind of holiday season they were hoping for in that regard.

COLLINS: Well, let's talk about what 2022 is going to look like because, of course, the questions about Senator Manchin, and I do want to go back to Senator Manchin here because over this holiday break, it seemed to put a nail in the Build Back Better bill saying he cannot support it is right now. President Biden, though, has expressed hope in recent days that they can come to some kind of agreement.

So, I'm wondering, what is the White House's plan to revive that? BERNSTEIN: Sure.

AVLON: Yeah.

COLLINS: So, President Biden, who I have worked for for many years, I was his economist when he was vice president, has a habit of pulling legislative rabbits out of hats and has done so many times. He is not over by any means, done fighting for building back better. And, in fact, when I talked to him about it, he has confidence about that including discussions he has had with Senator Manchin.

So, here, you know, you mentioned the inflation story and Senator Manchin. Let me go back to that for a second. One of the things the families face in a price pressure environment is higher prices for drug costs, for child care, for elder care and for, you know, other kinds of food, housing -- rental housing, the kind of things that can be pressure on a family budget.

Building back better relieves those costs. It eases those price pressures by helping families pay for child care, pay for education, lower prescription drug costs. So it actually pushes the other way and helps to ease inflationary pressures in some key areas to family budgets. The president, and Senator Manchin, you know, the day after that announcement where the senator said he couldn't vote for the bill as it was, they were talking again.


So, we are confident that we can continue to work on delivering this kind of essential relief to the American people.

COLLINS: The White House did put out a pretty scathing statement on Senator Manchin after that.

But, Jared Bernstein, we will see where things go in the New Year. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We hope you have a great New Year.

AVLON: Happy New Year.

BERNSTEIN: You too. Thank you.

COLLINS: Up next, Russian President Putin telling President Biden that imposing sanctions on Russia would be a, quote, colossal mistake. How the president responded is next.

ALVON: And a scaled back celebration in New York's Times Square tonight. So what's it going to look like? We'll tell you.


COLLINS: Amid an escalating crisis with Ukraine, President Biden is urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to deescalate during a phone call. Making it clear that the U.S. and its allies will respond if Russia invades Ukraine. Putin, in turn, warned Biden during their 50-minute call yesterday

that imposing sanctions that Biden has threatened on Russia would be a, quote, colossal mistake.

Joining us to talk about this is CNN national security commentator and former House intelligence chairman Mike Rogers. Also, with us, Jill Dougherty.