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New Day Saturday

Surging COVID Cases; Potter Takes The Stand; Biden, Fauci Warn Unvaccinated Americans About Omicron Threat; Closing Arguments In Kim Potter Trial Begin Monday; Goldman Sachs Warns Inflation May Get Worse Before It Gets Better; Roger Stone Pleads The Fifth In Deposition With January 6th Committee; Capitol Rioter Gets Five Years In Jail After Throwing Fire Extinguisher At Police. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired December 18, 2021 - 06:00   ET



PAULA REID, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. And welcome to your "NEW DAY." I'm Paula Reid in for Christi Paul.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Paula. I'm Boris Sanchez.

Listen. There's a big win for the Biden administration in court over federal vaccine mandates. The Omicron variant prompting new shutdowns as COVID yet again test hospitals across the nation.

REID: And former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter takes the stand in her own defense. 1. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIM POTTER, DEFENDANT: I was very distraught. I just shot somebody. I had never done that.


REID: Was that an effective defense strategy? Our legal team weighs in.

SANCHEZ: Plus, the judge handing down the strictest sentence yet to a Capitol rioter as the January 6th commission meets with one of the former president's closest allies.

REID: And it's the busiest time of the year for Santa but as demand soars, it turns out Jolly Old Saint Nick is in short supply.

SANCHEZ: We're so grateful that you're with us this Saturday, December 18th. Thank you so much for joining us.

Paula, it's great to see you. Welcome to "NEW DAY."

REID: It's great to be with you. I'm thrilled to be up early and ready to report all the news with you.

SANCHEZ: Wonderful. REID: We'll begin - we'll begin this hour with a start about the holiday travel rush. And worrying signs that the Omicron variant is fueling a rise in COVID-19 infections.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. President Biden issuing a stark warning this week to the unvaccinated, prepare for a winter of severe illness and death. Hospitalizations have been trending upward for more than two months, but the U.S. is now averaging 121,000 new COVID cases every single day. Those are levels not seen since the end of the summer surge in September.

REID: And rates are rising fastest in parts of the northeast, Midwest and south. In New York state alone, positive COVID-19 cases jumped 154 percent in less than a week.

Now, with Christmas and New Year's Eve approaching, more than 20 million people are expected to fly over the next two weeks.

Dr. Anthony Fauci warns it is only a matter of time before Omicron becomes the dominant variant in the U.S. and getting vaccinated or boosted remains key.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: If you look again five months after the second dose, and look under Omicron, the red circles, nominal. In other words, virtually no degree of neutralization and protection.

Again, one month after the third dose, it goes well within the protective range. We are in a situation where we are now facing a very important Delta surge and we are looking over our shoulder at an oncoming Omicron surge. The optimum protection is fully vaccinated plus a boost.


SANCHEZ: CNN's Polo Sandoval has a look at all the COVID headlines for us this morning.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Infections and hospitalizations are rising once again in the U.S., prompting disruptions and cancellations as the country enters another pandemic holiday season. One beloved holiday tradition now canceled, the New York City, Radio City Music Hall announced Friday it's "Christmas Spectacular" shows are canceled for the rest of the season. Quote, "Due to increasing challenges from the pandemic."

New York state reporting that on Thursday it had the highest single- day count of new COVID-19 cases with just over 21,000 according to data released on Friday. New York's data also revealed that positive COVID-19 cases in the state jumped 154 percent in less than a week. The previous high was on January 14th when there were 19,900 new cases reported. The Omicron variant has been identified in at least 40 states in addition to Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico according to public statements from hospital system and state officials in their respective states.

It's too soon to assume if the Omicron variant will cause milder disease, expert say.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: It is clear that Omicron is an extremely contagious variant that it doubles every two to four days. And you just have to look at the projections of what that means. And yeah, we are in for a lot of cases of people getting infected with this virus.

SANDOVAL: Across the country and states like Oregon, officials are warning of severe illness and a surge in hospitalizations now that Omicron has been detected in the state. And in Hawaii, the governor said in news conference Friday that the state is seeing, quote, "an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases." Vaccines are still the best way to fight COVID-19, officials say.


FAUCI: We still have 50 million or more people in this country who have not yet even gotten their first vaccination. That is really unacceptable. If we want to get through the challenge of a Delta, which is bad enough. We're looking at straight in the face. And then over your shoulder is coming Omicron. That is a very tenuous and difficult situation. So, we've got to do the things that are available to us. Vaccination, boosting, masking when you're in an indoor setting.

SANDOVAL: The Biden administration scored a significant victory Friday in its court battles to enforce various federal vaccine mandates with an appeals court ruling that the government can enforce a vaccine or testing rule for companies with more than 100 employees.

FAUCI: We will win this war with this virus. But we will win it only because and because we apply the things that we have. We are so fortunate that we have a highly effective and safe vaccine. We know what public - what public health mitigations work. We have just got a hang in there. We can't give up.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We have the tools to do it. But we need the American people to do their part to protect themselves, their children and their communities.

SANDOVAL: Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


SANCHEZ: And thanks to you, Polo, for that report.

So, President Biden scored a victory when it comes to vaccine mandates. And appeals court ruled that the government can enforce a vaccine or testing rule for companies with more than 100 employees. REID: CNN White House reporter, Jasmine Wright, is in Wilmington, Delaware this morning.

Jasmine, good morning. Thank you so much for being with us.

What more can you tell us about this decision?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Paula, it is certainly good news for the president who frankly has had some trouble getting these mandates off the ground as they have been taking to these conservative leading courts. So, officials really see this rule when it first came out a few months ago.

Officials told me and my colleagues that they saw this rule affecting larger employees with 100 or more employees. They sought as really providing a kind of cover to employers when they are trying to push their employees to get vaccinated. Saying, really, basically you can blame it on the government but these stays, being put on these mandates has kind of impacted that.

So - but of course, it is good news, Paula. It really only applies to this one part of the employee mandate. The other parts including federal contractors and federal certain healthcare workers. Those are still tied up in courts.

But of course, this is still very good news for the president as they really try to get more Americans vaccinated. Ultimately, though, Boris and Paula, this is going to go to the Supreme Court. The challenger who initially brought this case has said that they will go to the Supreme Court now that the appeal has been really processed. So, of course, it's going to go now to the Supreme Court who will effectively decide coming to the faith of the president's vaccine mandates. Paula? Boris?

SANCHEZ: And Jasmine, the president had a really harsh warning about the winter months on the onset of the Omicron variant. What is he saying?

WRIGHT: Yeah, well look, the president is doing what he told Americans that he would do. At least trying to do, which is being very direct and transparent with them about the state of the pandemic. But also trying to push the country along.

So, in that ladder half the Centers for Disease Control, they released new guidance, saying that evidence shows that for children and school, instead of quarantining kids that come into closed contact with somebody that test positive, evidence shows that children can stay in school if they test regularly. That keeps them in school and that keeps them safe.

And also, the White House has really increased their messaging as these variants have started to swirl across the country, as really as cases have started to uptick. And that increased messaging includes the president who made a really direct warning on Thursday to the unvaccinated. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to send a direct message to the American people: Due to the steps we've taken, Omicron has not yet spread as fast as it would've otherwise done and as is happening in Europe. But it's here now, and it's spreading, and it's going to increase.

For unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death -- if you're unvaccinated -- for themselves, their families, and the hospitals they'll soon overwhelm.

But there's good news: If you're vaccinated and you had your booster shot, you're protected from severe illness and death -- period.


WRIGHT: So, there we heard from the president really taking the chance of this uptick of cases to encourage more Americans to get vaccinated and to get boosted because that is the way that both he and officials within the White House see this country returning to a bit of normalcy getting those vaccines. Paula? Boris?


REID: Jasmine Wright, thank you so much.

All right. Let's bring in Dr. Taison Bell, an assistant professor of medicine of Infectious Diseases International Health and Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Virginia.

Doctor, thank you so much for being with us.

All right. Let's look at what is going on in New York state. You have just over 70 percent of the people there fully vaccinated, but they are still experiencing this massive surge in cases. So, does the current guidance that we have, does it really match the reality of the circumstances when it comes to this new variant?

DR. TAISON BELL, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Well, I think when we look at the guidance, it's still the same virus right? So, the same policies and the same mitigation measures. So, masking, getting fully vaccinated, getting boosted, limiting your indoor exposure, especially gatherings and things like that. But the same basic things still work. The important thing is that we really have to double down on this because the Omicron variant has shown the ability to find any weakness and really exploit it.

REID: So, one of the big questions is, is this more serious than for example. Delta? Dr. Fauci says he's certain Omicron will become the dominant strain in the U.S. We know it is more transmissible but is it too early to tell if it leads to more severe cases? We see hospitalizations are up 40 percent since last month. What are you seeing?

BELL: That's a very good and important question because we want to understand how severe the virus is compared to Delta. And it certainly appears in South Africa, that they are seeing, less cases in the hospital than it did compared to a Delta surge. You always have to ask the question, is it because of the virus itself, or is it because of the population that's being exposed to the virus.

So, in South Africa has a lower - younger population than we do, in higher levels of natural immunity. So, what we're wondering is what happens if someone who has not been exposed to coronavirus, who has not been vaccinated, who's high risk, maybe older in age.

What happens when they are infected? And we still don't have the answers to that question yet. But even if it does cause milder illness, the fact that it's spreading at so many people so fast is going to cause problems.

REID: This is the last thing. Anyone wants to hear particularly ahead of the holidays. So, is a winter surge even avoidable at this point? I mean what is the best-case scenario here.

BELL: I don't know the best-case scenario is. But I do think that we're going to see a winter surge. We're already seeing one with Delta. And I think Omicron on top of that is going to add fuel to the fire. And you know the things that's different about this year compared to last is that health care staffing is that a much worse sort of scenario. I was just walking through my ICU the other day and did not recognize any of my respiratory therapists because we had to dig deep into our contract pool.

So, it's not like we were on steady ground last year but this year, we're really on a tight rope. And anything that could knock us off could really send someone down.

REID: You make a great point about staffing shortages. We know that's an issue across the country. When it comes to boosters, boosters are now recommended for most Americans, but some people are questioning why hasn't the CDC updated their guidance to - to revise the definition of fully vaccinated to three shots? Is that something that's likely to happen? Is there a reason they haven't done that quite yet?

BELL: I think eventually the recommendation will be to have a booster and that's considered fully vaccinated. I do agree with the administration's approach to holding off from that now and just giving indications that it will happen.

For the simple reason that we've got about 200 million people that are fully vaccinated, only a quarter of them are boosted. And so, if we made a change right now, we're talking about 150 million people who would all of a sudden need to get boosted to fulfill a work requirement or for other activities like travel.

So, that would really flood out pharmacies, lead to confusion. And we really want to avoid that. So, I think giving the public time, giving employers time to update their policies, encouraging boosters that when that change finally does happen, it's not so much of an influx and less confusion.

REID: That makes sense. Well, Dr. Taison Bell, thank you so much for joining us to help us make sense of this new variant.

BELL: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Former police officer Kim Potter broke down on the stand this week as she walked jurors through the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright.

Our legal experts are going to weigh in on the decision to have her on the stand. Stand by for that.

Plus, prices are rising at the fastest rate in nearly four decades and there are new warnings that it's likely to get worse before it gets better.

We'll be back after a quick break.



REID: Former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter took the stand yesterday in her trial over the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright.

SANCHEZ: The 26-year veteran of the force says that she meant to use her taser on Wright and instead pulled out her gun.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus has a closer look at her emotional testimony.


POTTER: I'm sorry it happened.

ERIN ELDRIGE, MINNESOTA ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: You didn't plan to use deadly force that day, did you?


ELRIDGE: Because you knew that deadly force was unreasonable and unwarranted in that circumstance?

POTTER: I didn't want to hurt anybody.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Under cross examination by the prosecution, former Minnesota Police Officer Kim Potter, wept.

ELDRIDGE: You stopped doing your job completely. You didn't communicate what happened over the radio, right?


ELDRIDGE: You didn't make sure any officers knew what you had just done, right?


ELDRIDGE: You didn't run down the street and try to save Daunte Wright's life, did you?


ELDRIDGE: You didn't check on the other car that had been hit, did you?



ELDRIDGE: You were focused on what you had done, because you had just killed somebody.

POTTER: I'm sorry it happened.

BROADDUS: Breaking down on the stand while testifying in her own defense about the day she shot and killed Daunte Wright.

POTTER: We were struggling. We were trying to keep him from driving away. It just, it just went chaotic. And then I remember yelling, "Taser. Taser. Taser." And nothing happened and then he told me I shot him.

I'll tase you. Taser. Taser. Taser.

BROADDUS: Back in April, her life shifted in seconds.

POTTER: I shot him.

EARL GRAY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Do you actually remember what you said I guess is my question, not with help from a video.

POTTER: I don't remember what I said.

BROADDUS: But in officer's body camera capturing her response.

POTTER: No, just let me kill myself, Mike.

MIKE: No. No.

BROADDUS: Potter testifying today she never fired her gun or Taser in the field before this incident.

ELDRIDGE: You have drawn your taser and not fired it in your 26-year career.


BROADDUS: The prosecution continuing to challenge.

ELDRIDGE: You never saw a weapon on Mr. Wright, did you?


ELDRIDGE: Never saw a gun?


ELDRIDGE: He never threw a punch.


BROADDUS: The prosecutor also focusing in on her taser training and decades of experience.

ELDRIDGE: These items look different, don't they?


ELDRIDGE: The taser is yellow, right?


ELDRIDGE: The firearm is black, correct?


ELDRIDGE: And you've been trained on taser since 2002, correct?


BROADDUS: Potter's defense attorney asking about the aftermath of the shooting. Potter testified she sold her family home and moved out of the state.

EARL GRAY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Have you been in therapy?


GRAY: You still work as a police officer there?


GRAY: And why did you quit?

POTTER: There was so much bad things happening, I didn't want my co- workers and I didn't want anything bad to happen to the city.

BROADDUS: Potter is facing first and second-degree manslaughter charges. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

(on camera): And after the testimony, Daunte Wright's family released a statement calling the killing, quote, "preventable" as they prepare to spend their first Christmas without Daunte.

Meanwhile, Potter in agony as she watched that body camera video following the traffic stop. She said she never would have initiated had she been working alone that day. Potter testified it was a car freshener. A lot like this one in the shape of a tree, that lead to an initial stop by the rookie officer she was training. Here in Minnesota, it is illegal for a driver to have anything obstruct their view. Closing arguments start Monday.

Adrienne Broaddus, CNN, Minneapolis.


SANCHEZ: Adrienne, thank you for that report.

Let's bring in our CNN legal analysts to take a closer look at that testimony and the trial.

Criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson is with us. As is civil rights attorney Areva Martin.

Joey and Areva, always great to have you both.

Areva, let's start with you.

Potter's own words, her testimony, that's got to be the centerpiece of the defense. I'm wondering what you made of the decision to put her on the stand.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Boris, I think it was the right decision by the defense. She needed to explain to this jury how she can make such consequential mistakes particularly given her 26 years as a police officer, given her extensive training, given that she was the lead officer on the scene that day.

The emotional testimony obviously her team believes that that kind of testimony would resonate with jurors. So, we don't like - we don't often see police officers take the stand, weep in the way that she wept on the stand and make the kinds of concessions that she made about you know she didn't want to hurt anyone. She didn't intend to kill young Mr. Daunte Wright.

That's very powerful testimony from police officers. Typically, we see them take the stand and be very resolute in the decisions that they've made.

But it is not clear to me that that will be enough. The charges here are second and first-degree manslaughter. Criminal negligence, reckless conduct on her behalf. And when you look at the totality of the circumstances, when you look at the testimony from the expert witnesses that particularly the prosecutions expert that the force used was not proportionate given the circumstances.

I'm not sure that the weeping, the emotional testimony is going to you know allow her to avoid liability or you know consequences for her actions on that day.

SANCHEZ: I want to get into the actual charges, the difference between first and second-degree manslaughter.

But first, Joey, Areva brings up a good point and that Officer Potter became very emotional. Specifically, when the prosecution dug in on how after the shooting, she abandoned protocol.

[06:25:04] She admitted that she didn't do -- she didn't follow procedures. She didn't do the things she's supposed to do an officer following a shooting. What did you make of that specific portion of the testimony when she broke down?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah. Boris, good morning to you. Good morning, Areva.

You know, at the end of the day, Boris, what the defense is going for is what we defense attorneys call jury nullification. What does that mean?

It means the jury accepts the fact that you are guilty of what you did but they give you a pass. The defense's whole theory is it was an accident. She feels miserably. Let her go.

That's what it falls down to. And the fact is, is that with her on the stand, that her crying, et cetera. Jurors can very well and have the authority to say, you know what, we understand, she didn't render aid after the fact. We understand she didn't go chasing the car. We understand where Daunte Wright was in to assist him in any way or look at the other passengers in the other car. We get it.

But at the end of the day, we're going to overlook that because look at what she did. She has a family. Her husband Jeff is in the audience. She was you know she left the state. She's in therapy. So, they can very well do that.

But in the event they don't, Boris, she's guilty. She admitted to every essential element in the case. She said it was a mistake. She said she was sorry. She said she didn't mean to do it. She said she acted unreasonably. She said she didn't want to employ deadly force. That meant you're guilty of both reckless conduct and negligent conduct.

So, if they don't give her that nullification, the case is over. And it was a very big risk by the defense. We'll see in deliberations whether that risk was worth it.

SANCHEZ: And, Areva, the jury as Adrienne Broaddus noted, they get their instructions and they start deliberations early next week, potentially Monday. That difference between first and second-degree manslaughter charges, help us understand how the jury might weigh the difference.

MARTIN: Well, one of the things that the prosecution wanted to do as Joey just said was get her to acknowledge that there is no dispute really about the facts that she did the conduct that she's being accused of. And that was pretty well established by her own testimony and obviously by the testimony of the other prosecution.

What does this - but what the defense wanted to do was create the scene, is this chaotic scene. And we heard Potter testify about it. We heard some of the other officers testify about the scene to try to justify her conduct. And to the extent that there is belief by these jurors. The juror that

this -- there was this chaotic scene that required her to you know draw her taser, to use some level of force to stop Mr. Wright from what she said was driving his car away because there was an officer inside that car.

Indeed, the jury could find that her conduct was not just negligent but reckless. If she is pulling a weapon, with a car that's in motion because there was testimony by one of the experts that you're not supposed to use this level of force when a car is actually moving.

So, it remains to be seen. I think jury - Jody - Joey is right about you know how this testimony, it's emotional testimony, how would land, will they forgive here because she says she's sorry. And I think that's what the defense was hoping for, is that was very cheerful, very emotional witness that jurors see she's actually sorry, suffered enough.

SANCHEZ: And Joey, your thoughts on that. That distinction that jurors will ultimately have to weigh between first and second-degree manslaughter.

JACKSON: Yeah. So, on the one hand, we know that the first-degree charge carries 15 years and second-degree charge carries 10 years. Both very significant. On the one hand, you have reckless conduct. You consciously disregarded the risk, right? And therefore, your behavior was overwhelmingly reckless as to be criminal, right?

You know. You're trained. You're experienced. This is not an average person. You've been there 26 years. You undergo training all the time. You just did training in March. This occurred in April. You know, you trained other people. So, was it not reckless for you to do that?

In the event the jury does not conclude, Boris, OK. It's not 15 years, jury doesn't sentence her. I'm just saying the distinction. OK, it's not reckless. But at least, will the jury conclude that it was negligent, that is it was careless, which is the second-degree charge, which carries the 10 years. Because of the fact that there are distinctions and design between one weapon and the other.

There are distinctions with respect to how you carry it. Your firearm on your dominant side, your taser on the nondominant side. Was it in at least careless? So, the jurors when they're deliberating have to do that.

And again, the facts are not in dispute. She clearly acted in a way that was not in accord with the protocols, with policy, and everything else. The issue is whether they forgive her because of jury nullification. She was crying and they can relate to her.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. We'll see how the jury weighs that difference between first and second-degree manslaughter and whether that testimony is, as you both said, ultimately sways them.

Areva Martin, Joey Jackson, we appreciate you both being up early for us. Thanks for the expertise.


JACKSON: Thank you, Boris. Take care always.

REID: And up next, long-time Trump ally, Roger Stone showed up for his deposition yesterday, but didn't answer any questions from the House Select Committee.


REID: Consumer prices are rising at their fastest pace in nearly 40 years, and now Goldman Sachs warns inflation may get worse before it gets better, which could also erode support for President Biden's Build Back Better legislation.

SANCHEZ: Yes, the bill already faces an uphill battle. Senate Democrats have conceded it is not going to pass this year despite previous assurances. CNN's Matt Egan has more.

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Boris and Paula, President Biden's signature legislation is stalled in the Senate and the fate of the Build Back Better bill could be determined at least in part by what happens next on inflation.


That's because West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, the key swing vote in the Senate is concerned that this $1.75 trillion bill will pile even more pressure on prices. Now, no one can say for sure how Build Back Better will impact inflation. But many policy experts agree that the inflationary impact is likely to be modest, and there's parts of this legislation that are aimed at reducing costs including on child care.

Still, upcoming inflation reports could help shape the debate on Build Back Better. Consumer prices in November soared by 6.8 percent from the year before, that's the biggest gain in 39 years. There were record price spikes on new cars and trucks, full-service meals, and tools and hardware. This part of inflation is largely driven by the health crisis. COVID-related supply chain bottlenecks combined with soaring demand as the economy recovers from the pandemic have combined to send prices skyrocketing.

Now, President Biden says that this is likely the peak of the inflation crisis, and he may be right, many economists do think that inflation is going to cool off next year. But it could also get worse before it gets better. Goldman Sachs expects that in the coming months, consumer price gains are going to modestly accelerate to 7 percent.

And the Wall Street bank recently told clients that the longer that this debate plays out, the greater the impact on support for the legislation. That's why Goldman Sachs says that while this bill is still more likely than not to pass, the odds of it getting through Congress have gone down. Boris and Paula, all this shows how inflation is playing a key role in shaping the Biden agenda.

REID: Thanks for that, Matt. A Trump ally, Roger Stone is now the third member of the former president's inner circle to plead the Fifth as part of the investigation into the January 6th attack. On Friday, Stone met for about 90 minutes with the House Select Committee and invoked his right to not answer any question he was asked.

SANCHEZ: And Stone says he chose to remain silent because he questions the legitimacy of the committee. According to the panel's subpoena, Stone promoted his appearance at a January 6 "stop the steal" event and stated his purpose at the rally was to quote, lead a march to the Capitol.

REID: And a Florida man who pleaded guilty to attacking officers at the deadly insurrection has been sentenced to five years in jail. That's the longest sentence for a Capitol rioter so far. Robert Scott Palmer attacked the officers with a fire extinguisher, a wooden plank and a poll. He is the first person sentenced for the felony of assaulting an officer during the riot. And more than 140 others are currently facing the same charge, and his 63-month sentence might become a benchmark for others with similar charges.

SANCHEZ: Well, there's still a few more days to see Santa before Christmas. But there's a bit of a problem, there's simply not enough of Saint Nick to go around. We'll explain when we come back.



REID: It's that time of year when Santa is in high demand. But this year, like everything else, even the jolly old elf is in short supply.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Santa's helpers are recruiting others to join the ranks, including more people of color. CNN's Karin Caifa looks at the efforts to ease the Santa shortage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we are here to make some toys.

KARIN CAIFA, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): December is always Santa's busiest time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to be donating these toys to some children that would really love them and they need them.

CAIFA: But after a not-so jelly 2020, demand for Santa right now is in over-drive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The shortage that I think we're feeling right now is just there's a bigger demand.

CAIFA: So, at the L.A.-based Red Sled Foundation where Santa also has a workshop where kids craft toys for other kids in need, It's crunch time. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, the secret here is to make your arms wide,

there you go.

CAIFA: The Red Suit Survey conducted annually by self-described national Santa Tim Connaghan surveyed more than 300 Santas with an average age of about 66 years old, and found about 18 percent sitting on the sidelines as COVID lingers. The survey found professional and trained Santas are in shorter supply this year, colliding with a boom in parties, small gigs and parades after COVID-19 wiped out most holiday calendars in 2020.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know we did lose a lot of Santas due to, you know, the -- an illness or they've aged. You know, they get to a point where they're not, you know, ready to perform anymore.

CAIFA: Connaghan also signed on to an initiative to expand the next generation of Santas, an Old Navy virtual boot camp this year encouraged more people of color to join the Santa ranks with mentors like Dion Santa Dee Sinclair.

DION SANTA DEE SINCLAIR, THE REAL BLACK SANTA: I think that's what people are looking for, they're looking to see themselves in Santa.

CAIFA: The mall at Prince George's in Maryland just outside Washington D.C. has had a black Santa for a number of years. But diversity has historically been a challenge in the Santa ranks. Sinclair says what might seem like a small holiday snapshot can be a big powerful moment at any age. His first appearance in Atlanta 20 years ago brought his own sister to tears.

SINCLAIR: I think that joy of her seeing Santa Claus for the very first time that looked just like her made her just tear up.


CAIFA: After each December, Sinclair says he's constantly preparing, learning and mentoring for the next.

SINCLAIR: We have conventions each year, and everyone learns something from everyone. So, you're always a mentor and a mentee at the same time.

CAIFA: A year-round commitment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We take an oath to be a Santa to keep the magic alive at any cost, any expense. It's very important.

CAIFA: When more is merrier. In Washington, I'm Karin Caifa.


REID: A special programming note to tell you about, a growing number of parents are turning to marijuana to help their children with autism, and some are calling the changes they're seeing miraculous. Join Dr. Sanjay Gupta for a CNN special report, "WEED 6: MARIJUANA AND AUTISM" tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. right here on CNN. And COVID-19 is ravaging the L.A. Rams, taking out at least one-third of the team's roster. How is the NFL responding? That's next.



SANCHEZ: The growing surge in COVID-19 cases is wreaking havoc with seemingly every major sports league.

REID: Coy Wire has the morning's BLEACHER REPORT, good morning Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Paula and Boris, the NBA will soon implement daily testing, the NHL shutting down three teams until after Christmas, and for the first time this season, NFL postponing games, three of them this weekend due to COVID-19 issues. This afternoon, scheduled game between the Browns and the Raiders is being pushed to Monday, the league also moving Philadelphia versus Washington game, and Rams Seahawks from tomorrow to Tuesday.

The decision comes after 23 Cleveland Brown's players were added to the NFL reserve's COVID-19 list in recent days, including the team's starting quarterback Baker Mayfield and his backup. As of last night, the Rams have 29 players on the list, Washington with 23, the NFL updated its COVID protocols on Thursday, making it easier for vaccinated asymptomatic players to be activated following a positive test. And the NHL shutting down the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames until after Christmas because of COVID concerns.

The Avalanche will see four games postponed during that time, Panthers 3, the Flames will not miss six games since its shut down began on Monday, all three teams are totally scheduled to resume play on December 27th. Now, Net star Kyrie Irving hasn't played in a game all season because of his unvaccinated status.

But that could soon change. The team's general manager say that they'll let the seven-time all star rejoin the team as a part-time player. Irving still won't be able to play in home games because of New York's vaccine mandates at arenas, but he can play away games.

The short-handed Nets want him back on the court because they have seven players in health and safety protocols including superstar James Harden. All right, after learning about the devastating tornado that destroyed his home town of Mayfield, Kentucky, Wisconsin basketball player Chris Vogt decided he needed to do something. Chris is this week's difference maker and we caught up with him as he went back home to give some help and hope to those who need it.


CHRIS VOGT, WISCONSIN BADGERS MEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM: Mayfield, everyone knows everybody. It's a great small town. Great sense of community here, everyone has each other's back, we all love and support each other. It's tough. I mean, this is my childhood, this is where I grew up, a lot of my friends still live here, I still call this place home. It's kind of worrying, I mean, using the whole time has been heartbreaking. I mean, seeing the pictures and videos is one thing, but being here,

you know, like a torn down building right now is falling apart, this kind of makes it more real, and that's what I want to do, I came to help. One of the inspirations for me is former E.W. alum J.J. Watt and what he did for the city of Houston when the hurricane hit there. I've sat on the same platform as him, but if I can do anything on a fraction of scale, what he did, that'd be awesome.

And I learned this in Google, like how do I set up a GoFundMe, and I kind of followed the steps and I was able to launch it by the time the plane landed in Madison, and then it just kind of took off. I just want to help people in need the most.

I mean, being here and being able to see people's whole livelihoods change, there's houses torn apart, businesses torn down, I'm sure a lot of government aid, people help a lot of this, but I just kind of want to help fill in the cracks of where FEMA can't help people or where just kind of cushion the ball a little bit.

Feel kind of give back to the community that's done so much for me and supported me my whole basketball career, and it's kind of feels great to see things come full circle.


WIRE: Now, the GoFundMe that Chris set up has now raised more than $160,000, and he says the money will help provide every day necessities to those who have been impacted. Paula, Boris, difference maker no doubt.

SANCHEZ: Yes, no question. I got a chance to report from Mayfield last week when one of the things that touched me was how tight-knit that community is, and how many heroes just like Chris there are that are willing to step forward and put the community before themselves.

WIRE: It's inspiring.

SANCHEZ: It is. Coy Wire, thank you so much. So, in the next hour of NEW DAY, health experts warning a COVID viral blizzard likely to hit the U.S. in the coming weeks. We'll tell you what you need to know in just a few minutes.



SANCHEZ: Buenos dias, good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY, I'm Boris Sanchez.

REID: And I'm Paula Reid. The Biden administration wins a court battle over federal vaccine mandates as the Omicron variant comes new shutdowns and COVID again tests the nation's hospitals.

SANCHEZ: Plus, changing course, as President Biden's Build Back Better agenda hits a brick wall, he's now turning his focus to voting rights as advocates say the right to vote is under attack in several states.