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Airlines Cancel Hundreds of Flights Due to COVID Surge; Omicron Fueling Case Spike as Americans Gather this Christmas; Pope Marks Christmas with "Urbi Et Orbi" Blessing; World's Most Powerful Telescope Slated to Launch Next Hour; Markets Look to Recover After Two Years of COVID-Driven Chaos; "Thanks to Veterans" Program Pays for 11 Vets' Homes; CNN's 2021 Hero of the Year. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired December 25, 2021 - 06:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad. And welcome to this special holiday edition of "NEW DAY." I'm Boris Sanchez.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: And Merry Christmas to all of you as well. It is a magical morning. I'm Amara Walker in for Christi Paul.

Coming up this half hour, just as it seemed like the country was opening up again, and businesses were starting to recover, concerns over emerging variants could spell troubling news for the economy heading into next year.

SANCHEZ: Plus, a veteran still serving, still making a difference after her time in the military gets the surprise of a lifetime just in time for Christmas morning. She'll join us later this hour.

WALKER: And we'll hear from one woman whose inspiring work with the homeless and less fortunate has earned her the title CNN Hero of the Year.

SANCHEZ: All that and more is coming up this Christmas morning.

But first, let's get a check of your news headlines.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and Merry Christmas to you. I'm Jessica Dean.

The Omicron surge means getting home for Christmas is a challenge for many travelers today. Both Delta and United flight cancellations are now in the triple digits for the second straight day. Delta canceled 268 flights. United had 196 cancellations. JetBlue canceled 120 flights. The airlines are blaming staffing shortages stemming from the Omicron variant. CNN's aviation correspondent Pete Muntean has details.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, airlines say that as these Omicron cases went up and cause their staffing levels to go down, leading them to cancel some flights. In fact, most of the flights, according to FlightAware, cancellations on Friday were at United Airlines and Delta Air Lines but also Allegiant and JetBlue. We obtained a United Airlines memo to its staff in which it said these Omicron cases are primarily impacting its flight crews and its operations folks, those behind the scenes. Now, the airline industry says there is a fix for all of this. They want the isolation period required for somebody who gets a breakthrough coronavirus case slashed in half.

Right now, it has set at 10 days. The airline industry is pleading with the CDC to set that at five days, even though some airline worker unions oppose that. Even still, the number of travelers is very high. 2.19 million people screened at airports across the country on Thursday. That was expected to be one of the busiest days for travel. Although still many more busy days ahead. The TSA anticipates another 20 million people will travel between now and January 3rd. That's when they expect everybody to come home all at once. Jessica?

DEAN: All right. Pete Muntean, thank you so much.

The rapid rise of the Omicron variant has led to a rush to get tested for COVID, especially for those planning for holiday gatherings. But finding a testing location or an at-home test has been a real challenge.

Here's CNN's Lucy Kafanov with the latest on American search for COVID tests.


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

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Christmas cheer tempered this year as Omicron spreads at a rapid case with new COVID cases hitting record highs. The U.S. now averaging more than 180,000 new cases each day, up 48 percent from last week, surpassing the peak of the Delta variant surge in the summer. The good news, hospitalizations remain half the record high from January.

Amid the Omicron surge, the CDC cutting quarantine time for infected health care workers. Those who test positive but are asymptomatic can now return to work after seven days of isolation instead of 10 with a negative test, scrapping quarantine all together for vaccinated and boosted health care workers who have been exposed.

DR. JEROME ADAMS, FORMER SURGEON GENERAL: It's a decision that's been made necessary by the fact that the virus is spiraling out of control. It does follow the science, it's seven days, but you have to test negative. You don't need to be isolated for a full 10 days.

KAFANOV: New York is following the CDC lead with the governor there saying essential workers who are fully vaccinated can return to work five days after showing no symptoms and have had no fever for 72 hours.

As Santa delivers gifts to households around the globe, Americans flying to see loved ones are facing a bumpy travel day. Airlines canceling hundreds of flights on Christmas Eve as staff and crew call out sick.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope that everyone keeps their own safety and everyone else's safety in mind when they travel.

KAFANOV: In a rush to get tested, be prepared to wait.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody went to get tested so, you know, we just have to be patient.

KAFANOV: With at-home COVID test supplies still limited, many testing sites across the nation are overwhelmed. But across the pond, a sliver of hope.


The United Kingdom Health Agency says data suggests Omicron cases are 50 percent to 70 percent less likely to require hospitalization than those with Delta.

(on camera): And there is some frustration from millions of Americans who suffer from weakened immune systems. The drug manufacturer AstraZeneca recently developed a medication to help prevent COVID-19 for the immunocompromised but the U.S. government only purchased enough to help less than one tenth of those who are eligible.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Los Angeles.


DEAN: Lucy, thanks so much.

And for more on the COVID surge, let's bring in CNN contributor Dr. Abdul El-Sayed.

Dr. El-Sayed, great to see you. Merry Christmas. Good morning.

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning. Good morning. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to you.

DEAN: Yeah. Talk to us first generally about your biggest concerns as people gather for the holidays. A lot of people probably already gathering last night and will be in the coming days.

EL-SAYED: Yeah, I don't have to tell anybody that the holidays have the potential to be a spreader event. Now, the most important thing is that people are vigilant, and the unfortunate reality is that one of the most important things that you can do of course is get boosted. And only about 30 percent of Americans have done that. And then there's the access to testing and it's too hard to get that right now. And, unfortunately, given what we understand about how best to use it, oftentimes to test you're going to need multiple tests and that's even harder to get.

And then, right now, unfortunately, as we're watching people's holiday travels get flummoxed by this virus, that then leads them to have to stay together in circumstances that they didn't plan for. And so, you look at this and unfortunately, it is the perfect storm happening at the worst possible time for many people.

DEAN: Yeah. There's no question about that. So many people having their plans up ended and to your point, kind of already maybe have traveled and get stuck there. It's really hard for people to find at- home tests or get a test right now. A lot of people struggling to do that.

What else can people do to protect themselves if they're meeting others? And obviously, this is going to be different depending on if you're meeting vaccinated people who have been boosted or unvaccinated people. How should people be thinking through this if they can't get those at-home tests.

EL-SAYED: That's right, Jessica. And the way a test works is it gives you a glimpse into your status as you're about to come together. And of course, if you get a negative test, then you need to miss out on the festivities. But one of the important things you could do is also just protect yourself from COVID-19 when you're out and about in public indoor settings. And unfortunately, some of the masks that we've been marrying may not actually offer the kind of protection that Omicron requires.

And so, upgrading those masks maybe from a cloth mask, which does not protect in the same way, to maybe a surgical mask or even better, an N95 mask is a good idea right now just to protect yourself in the comings and goings as you go about your holiday business. And so, that's one more thing that people can do.

But of course, if you haven't gotten vaccinated yet, make sure you do that. And as you're thinking about how to keep safe, maybe making decisions about which indoor gatherings you choose to partake and then maybe which you don't, can be really an important way to stop the spread of this virus and protect your family.

DEAN: Sure. And we just saw some -- a couple of different stories about the different quarantine times for health care workers that we were just hearing from Pete Muntean that some people in the airline industry want to shorten the quarantine times for positive tests.

Where do you come down on all of that and what should someone at home know? I think some people are confused. OK. Do I still if I get a positive test, is it still 10 days? What should I do?

EL-SAYED: Well, this reflects the need to keep our health care system functioning. If you remember back to the battle days of March 2020, we were all talking about flattening the curve. And what that meant was keeping the level of spread low enough that our health care system wasn't overwhelmed. What we're seeing right now though, unfortunately, is given how burnt out so many health care workers are over the past two years, there's just a lower capacity in our health care system, there just aren't the people to care for folks.

And so, thinking about what the edge of potential infectiousness might be for clinicians is what the CDC is trying to do to make sure that enough of our clinicians are out on the frontlines, caring for people even as the surge is hitting us. And so, it was not the ideal, right, the ideal is still 10. And so, if you're out there and you're not required to go take care of someone in a hospital bed, then 10 is always a better option. That being said, when you think about the situation that we're in, it's really important to try and weigh the risk of potential infectiousness from somebody who is infected and the need to have those folks on the frontlines in the highest probability situation, which is that they're not infectious seven days out. And so, I just want folks to understand the context of how this decision was made.

DEAN: Right. You really have to balance it there.

And quickly, before we let you go, we are seeing staffing shortages popping up specifically in the airline industry.


But do you anticipate that we're going to see - and obviously, you just talked about the health care industry. But do you think we'll see similar situations in other industries as Omicron makes its way through the country?

EL-SAYED: Well, the CDC didn't make this decision on a whim. They definitely based it on good, strong evidence about the probability that someone is still infectious seven or 10 days out. And because that infectiousness wanes over time, the probability that three more days of quarantine increases your likelihood of passing this on is low. That being said, right, it really is a question of necessity and need.

And also, the thing we have to remember always is worker safety and so many of our workers, we don't think about them as frontline workers. Folks who have been out there making sure that our grocery stores or our holiday travel is safe and functional, those folks are frontline workers too and we have to remember their safety.

And so, you know we have to really balance the needs of people, a health care system is - definitively need but then the question becomes what is actually a need and when do we make the choice to really put worker safety up front ahead of the need of a large corporation? And I think you may see this starting to push, but you're also going to see pushback from workers' unions considerably because their health is on the line here. We have to remember that.

DEAN: Yeah. All right. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, thanks so much for joining us this morning. We sure do appreciate it.

EL-SAYED: Thank you, Jessica. And happy holiday to everybody out there and stay safe.

DEAN: Yeah. Right now, Pope Francis is delivering his annual blessing from Vatican City. This follows Christmas Day mass at St. Peter's Basilica.

Due to COVID restrictions, only 2,000 worshipers are allowed inside St. Peters this year. Celebrating Christmas Eve mass last night. He said vaccination is, quote, "an act of love." He's also calling on wealthy countries to provide the shots to poor nations.

NASA will attempt to launch what's being called the world's most advanced telescope in the next hour. But weather could force yet another delay in that. The James Webb Space Telescope will take one month to reach its orbit around the sun which is just under a million miles away. Now, because it's so far away, it won't be able to be serviced or repaired if anything goes wrong. The $10 billion telescope will be able to observe the atmosphere of planets outside of our solar system as never before, potentially finding which planets might sustain life. Amazing.

Just ahead, as COVID cases surge across the country, will the economic rebound stall? That's after a quick break.



SANCHEZ: So, the coronavirus pandemic weighed heavily on the economy for much of the last two years. And with the rise of the Omicron variant, it appears that the economic recovery in 2022 might be impacted as well.

WALKER: Joining us now to discuss this is Rana Foroohar global business columnist and associate editor of the "Financial Times." She's also a CNN global economic analyst.

Great to see you. Merry Christmas, Rana.


WALKER: Thank you so much.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

WALKER: And let's start with this letter to the clients that JPMorgan Chase sent. And it predicted, "2022 will be the year of a full global recovery, an end of the global pandemic and a return to normal conditions we had prior to the COVID-19 outbreak."

I think this letter was sent a few weeks ago. So now, it's a very different situation. I guess we're talking about Omicron as the dominant variant and of course, Manchin torpedoing the Build Back Better bill. What are your thoughts on this prediction not happening?

FOROOHAR: Well, you know I don't want to be gloomy on Christmas, but I think it's a little overly optimistic. You know I think there's not too much question that growth is probably going to be slower this coming year than it was last year. And part of that is the fact that we had such a robust recovery from those initial couple of rebounds from COVID, you know, beginning over the last couple of years.

This year, the rubber is really going to hit the road. I mean we've got not only this new variant to deal with. We've got supply chain shortages. And we have rising wages which on one hand is good for people in terms of the amount of money they have in their pockets to spend, but it's going to make things tougher for businesses. And that could put some dents in hiring.

The final wrinkle in the puzzle here is the Fed. And the Fed raising rates. The Fed has said that it wants to get inflation under control, and we might be looking at three interest rates hikes in the new year and markets never like interest rates going up. That's always a delicate balancing act. So, there's a lot to juggle here.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. You're absolutely right about inflation. In November prices rose at their fastest pace in nearly 40 years. Do you think the Fed sort of pumping the breaks on that aspect of the economy with a hiking interest rates might have an unintended consequence, though, and might ultimately further complicate the sort of weird version of inflation that the United States is dealing with?

FOROOHAR: Well, you know you've really hit it on the head there. Weird version of inflation. This is not '70s-style inflation. You know there's a lot of variables in play. We have just come out of a pandemic. On one hand, some countries are recovering, on the other some are really being hard hit. Europe in particular being hard hit by this new variant.

So, there's not one picture in the economy right now. Whenever you get an interest rate hike, the market tends to dip. It tends to get a little volatile. A lot of people are looking at their 401(k)s and saying, OK, we've done well over the last year or two. If markets start to dip, then does that hit consumer spending? On the other hand, you don't want to let inflation get out of control.

And so, you know, the upside to this could be that if the Fed gets out ahead of inflation, you know, even if we see some inflation in the coming year, you could set the stage for a healthier recovery and a period that could be maybe like the '80s, where you started the decade with high inflation, but you ended up with really high growth because the Fed did a good job.

WALKER: And back to the job market that you were mentioning, and you were saying this might be difficult time for businesses because wages are up. But, you know, with the great resignation, millions of people leaving their jobs, retiring early, what does this mean for the regular person who is looking to get more money in their pocket?

FOROOHAR: Well, you know, I think it's never been a better time, certainly in my memory, to be a worker. You know we've come through four decades in which labor didn't have a lot of bargaining power. That's really changed now in the last couple of years. So, it's a good time to be looking for a job. And you're seeing people say, you know what, I'm not willing to work for $15, $20 an hour, even. I want more and I want better benefits and I want more freedom.


You know younger people in particular saying, we want to live differently. And I think we're at the beginning of an entirely new era for work-life balance and even the geography of work. You know people moving out of cities and into different parts of the country.

SANCHEZ: And, Rana, I'm curious because you alluded to the supply chain issues earlier. How do you think they're going to shake out especially in the early part of 2022?

FOROOHAR: Well, I think the early -- the first quarter or two are going to be volatile, I would say. You are still going to see some of those supply chain issues coming through, but I'm optimistic by the second half of the year, you could see technology actually really helping companies start to balance that. Already big companies, Walmart, Costco, Target, are saying we want to own more of our supply chain. We want to control that. We want to use technology to smooth out the cycle. So, you know, Christmas hasn't been canceled and I think that things will get better in this way in the new year.

WALKER: What a way to end the conversation with optimism and I have to say, I know there were so many concerns about the supply chain, and perhaps it's because I bought my Christmas presents early.


WALKER: But they all came on time and early. So, Christmas is not canceled for our family. Good for you, Rana.

Great to see you. Thank you so much for the conversation.

FOROOHAR: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: So, from COVID concerns to economic instability, it's understandable that a lot of people feel stressed out and overwhelmed. So, after a quick break, we're going to talk to an expert about how to cope during these uncertain times. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: So, it's been a hard year or two, a global pandemic with new variants as we've been talking about this morning resurgent waves.


The economic upheaval that comes with that, plus political battles that strain the very foundation of the republic. There's a lot to be stressed about. Fortunately, though, this morning, we have an expert on how to cope with this increasingly stressful world.

Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Gail Saltz joins us now. She's also the host of the "How Can I Help?" podcast.

Doctor, thank you so much for sharing part of your weekend with us.

Given that we're apparently on the cusp of this new wave of coronavirus cases, almost inevitably followed by death, what kind of an impact do you expect that's going to have on a population that's already been through so much?

DR. GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST AND PSYCHOANALYST: Unfortunately, we, as you mentioned earlier, already had all of these issues going on and we were really in a wave already, a pandemic, if you will, of mental health issues. People who were already struggling are struggling more. New people that weren't having mental health issues before are now we've seen a tremendous rise in the numbers in terms of people with clinical depression, anxiety disorders, overdoses, lots of issues that are about our mental health.

And the only good news I could say is that has really risen the awareness of mental health issues which I think is decreasing stigma and allowing more people to seek treatment. So, we have huge numbers of people. Most of my colleagues, everybody has waiting lists, people have discovered in this time period that telehealth, teletherapy actually is every bit as effective as in-person and that is also good news so that people can seek it even while not exposing themselves. They can seek it even if they don't have somebody close to them that does therapy. They can reach out to somebody at a further distance.

But the reality is that here we are again with a new wave and people's will power is on the wane. This is just a tremendous amount of stress and things that we normally cope with, like being able to be with people and talk to them, is being compromised by this new wave. So that is making it very difficult. These are the kinds of things that create the perfect storm to create more mental health issues.

SANCHEZ: And you've previously mentioned that even mental health professionals are feeling a sense of fatigue because their services, as you noted, have been in such high demand over the past two years. I'm curious what you might have experienced then and what trends you're noticing among your colleagues.

SALTZ: Well, I'm definitely -- and I think people are aware of this. Health professionals of all kinds who are dealing with the COVID are actually overwhelmed, burnt out, and some are thinking about leaving. But certainly, many are struggling with mental health issues.

And, you know, I'm a psychiatrist. But mental health professionals, we have brains too and that means we could have mental health issues too. It's extremely stressful because the work doesn't stop coming and because these are real things that we can't point out to people, hey, this is just your perception. Let's look at this. Maybe you're viewing this too negatively. A lot of negative and difficult things are going on. So, actually, it's been a real onslaught and I would say myself, my colleagues, a lot of us are struggling. It's definitely a very difficult time.

SANCHEZ: And it has been so, especially in younger people. The pandemic is having a pronounced effect on the mental health of children, notably, the number of suicide attempts have increased at an alarming rate in young people. We don't know the extent of how this pandemic might affect children until they get older, so what would you tell parents who are worried about the toll that the pandemic is having on their kids right now?

SALTZ: Well, generally speaking, I would tell people a lot of things, and those are, for children and for adults to implement as many coping strategies as you can at this point in time. There are coping strategies that I would consider to be preventive mental health care. So those are regular aerobic exercise three to four times a week. Those are utilizing techniques like paced breathing, deep-paced breathing which you can easily look up online. How you do that, how to inhale and exhale, that decreases your anxiety and stress level. You can do it as a family. You can teach your children how to do this. Progressive muscle relaxation.

Another way to de-stress, remove the anxiety from your body. Make sure that your children and yourself, have people they can talk to about how they're feeling, just being able to emote and connect with someone and be understood is very important in terms of mental health.

Practices like meditation, mindfulness, there are lots of practices one can incorporate into their day that actually really diminish stress which diminishes anxiety which helps in terms of preventing issues like depression.


However, I also think it's important for parents to know that if your child is visibly having signs that they are struggling. What are those?

Maybe they have trouble sleeping. They're expressing a lot of anxiety. They're starting to withdraw. You're seeing their academic performance go down.

If you start to see signs of that, talk to them about it and consider getting therapy. Because the fact is, you can use teletherapy. You don't have to expose yourself in terms of COVID. It's very available. You can look to apps to do this. You can look to your local community center for referrals, your primary care physician for referrals. But basically, even in a small number of sessions, eight to 10 sessions, can really make a difference for both adults and for children.

SANCHEZ: All right. Thanks again to Gail Saltz for her time.

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, help is available. You can contact the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

WALKER: Still ahead, we will have a check of your Christmas morning forecast and a navy veteran gets the surprise of a lifetime just in time for the holidays. We'll be right back.


WALKER: Welcome back, everyone to this special Christmas morning edition of "NEW DAY." Merry Christmas. I'm Amara Walker.

SANCHEZ: Merry Christmas, Amara. Great to be with you. I'm Boris Sanchez.

Coming up. Regina served this country in the military and now as a Navy veteran, she continues to be a positive role model making an impact in her local community. Now, her community is repaying her just in time for Christmas.

WALKER: And we'll introduce you to this year's CNN Hero of the Year.


Shirley Raines, how she plans to continue her important work with the homeless and less fortunate in the year ahead.

SANCHEZ: All that and more. But first, let's get you caught up on this morning's top stories.

DEAN: Thanks so much to Boris and Amara. And good morning and Merry Christmas to you. I'm Jessica Dean in Washington.

The Omicron COVID surge is making holiday travel a headache for a lot of people today. Both Delta and united flight cancellations are in the triple digits for the second straight day. Delta canceled 268 flights while United at 196 cancellations. JetBlue canceled 120 flights. The airlines are blaming staffing shortages stemming from the Omicron variant. They want the CDC to cut the isolation period in half for employees who develop breakthrough cases from 10 days down to five.

NASA will attempt to launch what's being called the world's most advanced telescope in the hour, but weather could force a delay. The telescope will take one month to complete its orbit around the sun which is just a million miles away. Because it will be so har away, it will not be able to be serviced or repaired if anything goes wrong. The $10 billion telescope will be able to observe the atmosphere of planets outside of our solar system as never before, potentially finding which planets might sustain life.

A spokesman for Donald Trump is suing the January 6th Committee in an attempt to block access to his financial records. Taylor Budowich is trying to keep the committee from getting his records from JPMorgan. His lawsuit says he's turned over more than 1,700 pages of documents and provided four hours of sworn testimony. The committee says Budowich solicited money from a nonprofit organization to conduct a social media and radio campaign encouraging people to attend the January 6th rally at the Capitol.

And let's get a check of your Christmas morning forecast now. Meteorologist Tyler Mauldin joining us. Good morning to you, Tyler.

TYLER MAULDIN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Jessica. Good morning and Merry Christmas.

We have a clash of two weather masses, air masses across the U.S. on this Christmas Day. Across the southeast, going all the way into the mid-Atlantic, record temperatures are possible. Yesterday in Texas, we saw temperatures reach 90 degrees. Today, mid to upper 80s, and then across the deep south, Georgia, Alabama, we'll be seeing temperatures in the 70s all the way through next week.

Meanwhile, across the northeast, a little bit of a different story here. We got some cooler than normal air up here across the northeast and a winter weather advisory in effect right now because a system is going to be moving over. It's currently moving into the area giving way to a cold rain and a mixed bag of wintry weather. We could see ice accumulation of up to about a quarter inch in the northeast.

And then here across the Northern Plains going into the Great Lakes, we have a clipper system moving over the next 48 hours and that's going to lead to almost a foot of snow in portions of North Dakota and Minnesota. And speaking of feet of snow, that's what we're going to be dealing with across the mountains out west. In fact, the Sierra Nevada could see more than three feet of snow. The lower elevations, a lot in the way of rainfall.

So, across the entire country on this Christmas Day, Jessica, we're looking at nearly 30 million people under winter weather alerts. So, quite the clash that we have going on here with winter across the northern states and the west coast but feeling like springtime down here across the south. Definitely not feeling like Christmastime in the southeast. Jessica?

DEAN: All right. Tyle, thank you so much. In a festive Christmas jacket too. Looking good.

MAULDIN: Thank you.


DEAN: And I'll see you back here at the top of the hour and for now, let's send it back to Boris and Amara.

SANCHEZ: A few military veterans are spending the holidays enjoying a really special gift, a home that is fully paid for.

WALKER: Regina is a navy veteran honored by the "Thanks to Veterans" program. She's still serving her community as a volunteer and she includes her three children in the service. She's team mom for her son's football team and was, let's say, surprised with the news after one of their games.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you guys know Regina is a veteran.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you guys also know she just got a new house, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How important is this house to you?



REGINA W.: Because it gives my children a stable place to live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you feel if I told you Veterans United is going to buy your house in full and it is now yours?

REGINA W.: What? My goodness. Are you serious? Are you serious? Oh my God.



WALKER: My goodness. Regina, it's emotional for me watching. Also joining us is Pam Swan, Vice President for Military Relations at Veterans United Home Loans. Welcome to you both.

Regina, let's start with you. Replay that moment for us and what it was like.

REGINA W.: Just hearing it gave me emotional every time. It was -- I'm at a loss for words still. All I can think about was, are they playing with me? Is this a joke? And I've seen everybody is jumping in.

When I see my dad cry, I knew it was real because my dad was there, and my daughter was jumping up and down. And I was like, oh my gosh, this is real. They just paid off my house. No mortgage payment. It was just so many emotions -- I was going through so many emotions at the time. Even now listening to it.

SANCHEZ: I can tell that that it makes you really emotional, Regina. Obviously, it means a lot for your kids too and the foundation of Generational Wealth and all the opportunities that come with homeownership. Talk to us about how your kids are feeling, do they realize how big a deal this is?

REGINA W.: My daughter, she's 15, she does, but my son, they're eight and nine, I don't think they really know. Because a couple of days ago, they were like, mom -- talking about my bills, because I always go over like bills with them. And you know, they were like, OK, what about the mortgage?

So, it's like they forget, they know, but they forget. And I'm like, Mom don't have a mortgage. So, if, you know, if getting some -- if -- we're just trying to get used to it. They don't fully understand, but they will when they get older.

WALKER: It's just such a beautiful story and moment that we got to share with you there on video.

Pam, can you tell us a little bit more about this program and also how it started?

PAM SWAN, VETERANS UNITED HOME LOANS, VICE PRESIDENT OF MILITARY RELATIONS: Absolutely. First, Regina, I want to say Merry Christmas to you and your family. You have become part of our family at Veterans United, so we're so excited to see you again today this Christmas. And Merry Christmas to you, Boris and Amara as well. So, Veterans United, we have a lifestyle and a business model of enhancing veterans and their families' lives and the communities as well. And as we moved into the holiday season, particularly Veterans Day last month, and thinking about, how could we enhance the lives of our veterans and show the enhancement that they give to communities, and Regina is a prime example of that.

And we selected, methodically, looking at veterans and telling the story of how veterans serve after service. So really focusing on those individuals that have given back to their communities and the things that you just saw in the videos and have talked about Regina. And she is a prime example of that.

People that serve in the military, they have a mindset and a focus to give back and to help others and that they only bring that back into their communities. And with the housing market, the way it has been through this pandemic, we saw a lot of our clients make offer after offer and be taken -- a seller would take another offer. And they would have to go out and look for that search again.

And so, when we selected those individuals, we kept that in mind, and we reserved one sweepstakes that we will be giving away and announcing on New Year's Eve, is the last day that you can register to be the 11th home recipient, just like Regina, and still have that advantage of this year. And as we look at how 2021 has unfolded in the housing market and be able to affect yet another life, another family and another community, just like we did with Regina.

SANCHEZ: Pam, you talked about giving back to those who give so much to our nation and helping out these veterans, tell us about some of these recipients and also how does someone enter to receive that 11th home?

SWAN: Absolutely, Boris. So, the other recipients are varied across the country. And it is exciting to see all of them and we've gotten close to every one of them. I think Regina probably has gotten a phone call from somebody at Veterans United every few days. She has become family and the other recipients the same way.


So, they -- they have -- we have former Army, we have a Vietnam veteran, we have Marines, we have male and female alike service members. As, again, it's as varied as the military is. So, the way that you can be one of these individuals and be the 11th home recipient is, go to It's a very easily -- easy sweepstakes submission and try to be that 11th homeowner.

But also, even if you're not get the education, look at the program that's out there and make sure that if you know a veteran, you're telling them to go to this site and maybe change their life forever. And as you said, Boris, I think was the generational change. And that's what really mortgage free home does for people like Regina and the other recipients out there.

It is a generational change and encourages all of us to give back more to our communities, whether we're veterans, veterans' families, or we're just part of our community. Let's give back, let's show that service.

WALKER: What an incredible organization. Pam, thank you for that.

And Regina, lastly to you, I mean, tell us a little bit about how this has changed your life. What kind of freedom it's going to allow you and how you'll be spending your Christmas Day today?

REGINA W.: The way it has changed my life is we're able to -- my family and I were able to give more to the community. My children opted out of Christmas gifts this year, and instead they decided to donate Christmas gifts to needy children. So that's in itself a blessing where we're able to give more.

It's just -- it's an amazing feeling moving forward. My children, they're -- they'll be able to have opportunities that I didn't have growing up because we are mortgage free. I'm able to do more as far as their education and extracurricular activities because of it. So, yes, this is a big deal for us in our family.

SANCHEZ: Using this opportunity to continue helping others, Regina, you are so inspiring and impressive. Thank you so much for your service. Congratulations on the home.

REGINA W.: My pleasure.

SANCHEZ: Pam, thanks for all your hard work helping folks like Regina and giving back to them for so much that they've done for us. Merry Christmas to you both and thank you for the time. Have a Happy Christmas.

REGINA W.: Merry Christmas.

SWAN: Thank you. Merry Christmas to you.

WALKER: Merry Christmas. The best story on Christmas Day. Thank you so much.

Coming up, we're going to introduce you to the 2021 CNN Hero of the Year and her inspiring work with California's homeless.



SANCHEZ: Time now for the good stuff. This month, CNN named its Hero of the Year and she is impressive. Kaitlan Collins has more.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The 2021 CNN Hero of the Year is -

KELLY RIPA, CNN HOST: Shirley Raines.

COOPER: Shirley Raines. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shirley Raines runs a nonprofit called "Beauty 2 the Streetz", transforming part of Skid Row into an outdoor beauty salon, offering haircuts, facials, meals, and hugs to the homeless.

CNN Hero Shirley Raines joins me now. Hey, I loved your outfit last night so much.

SHIRLEY RAINES, CNN HERO OF THE YEAR WINNER: Oh Perry Meek, girl. He did that, did he not?

COLLINS: That was the perfect outfit --

RAINES: I love Perry.

COLLINS: -- to win and awarding. But, obviously, there's so much behind this. So how did you start this project? What really helped you get this started?

RAINES: I think everybody knows at this point my, you know, my son passed away many, many years ago. And I broke, you know, emotionally, spiritually, and I had so much pain. And, you know, later his dad lost the battle with cancer. And I was just trying to make some sense of the pain in my life, you know what I mean?

And to trying to find something to do with that pain, I found the homeless. A friend of mine, Yuri (ph), asked me if I would like to come out with him to feed the homeless one day with another nonprofit.


RAINES: And I went out there, and I fell in love with the community like from day one. I was just like, wow, you all are broken. You're just like me, let's go, you know?

COLLINS: And so, you're out there, and did you -- did the idea come to you then or how did you kind of get the idea? Because there are so many ways to be able to help homeless, but what made you think that this was a something that they needed, and something that could help them?

RAINES: You know, let's be clear, this is what the community wanted from me. I went out there to do just what everybody does when they feed the homeless, give them their needs. They came to me with their wants. They kept saying, we love your hair, we love your lashes, we love your makeup. I'm like, oh, queen, I can get you some of this if you want. They were like, would you? And it started very organically. It was something that they wanted.

And I think that the narrative that's been attached to homeless makes us forget that they still want to feel inherently beautiful. So, they came to me with this. And I was more than happy to do it, because that's something I had to offer. And I felt like I had a lot to offer, but that I did.

COLLINS: Clearly, you do have a lot to offer. RAINES: Oh, thank you, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: But do you think, to them to a degree, it's about a sense of dignity because, you know, it's not just about meeting their needs of eating and having somewhere to stay and blankets and clothing. But this is a sense of dignity when it comes to a haircut or facial or something like this.

RAINES: I think it's that and I also think this being seen and being touched. You know what I mean? Like the thing, the work that we do, we physically touch their hair, we scrub their hair, we put hot water on their head. So, part of me thinks it's the desire to feel beautiful, but it's also the desire to feel seen. You know what I mean?

For 30 minutes, someone is calling their name. My team is washing their hair. We're catering to them, and we're making life about them. And I think that they've just been neglected for so very long, that this attention makes them feel good. So, I think it's a double-edged sword. I think it's also the beauty as well as just feeling good.

COLLINS: And what is the power of physical touch, of something like that to the people that you meet every day?

RAINES: I think that that's spiritual CPR. You know, I think a lot of times we fight to save the body. Let's give them food, let's give them shelter, let's give them clothing. But I think physical touch is that spiritual CPR that revives the spirit inside.


RAINES: That says, you know what, someone cares about me. That says, despite where I am and how I look, people love me. And I think that that's something that I wasn't feeling, you know, when I was going through my hard times.

And one of the things that helped me was makeup. It was an adult game of make believe, you know what I mean? And I feel like that sometimes what we do with the community, like, you know, pretend. You know, there's nothing wrong with pretending. We do it as kids all the time.


COLLINS: We do, and as adults maybe.

RAINES: And as adults, yes.

COLLINS: Well, you talked about, you know, the loss of your son and what this meant for you and where you were in that place when you went out with your friend that day, just to feed people and to be there for them. What was it like being on that stage last night when you heard Anderson and Kelly say your name?

RAINES: It was so surreal, but, you know, more than anything, I'm just excited for the community. I'm just a messenger. You know, I work at the pleasure of the homeless, you know? I serve at their pleasure. I'm just a messenger. And it was just so amazing to know that the world cares. You know, I think we feel like they're forgotten community. And there's so many amazing people on that stage with me.


RAINES: And the fact that, you know, social media and the world chose us, they chose that community. They didn't choose me. They didn't choose me. They chose that community. You know what I mean? And that was heart-warming.

I can't wait to go back home. I can't wait to tell them that people see them and love them and care about them.

COLLINS: Well, and so with this, you get $100,000 --

RAINES: Yes, we do.

COLLINS: -- as part of this prize --

RAINES: We do.

COLLINS: -- to expand your work. And so yes, your group. So, what are your -- what -- do you have any idea? What are you thinking? What's your vision for? What do you want to do with this?

RAINES: Well, you know, I go out on Tuesdays and I feed them out of my -- out of the van and I always wanted like an ice cream truck kind of thing to make it easier. But right now, unfortunately, we're at a time where we're struggling to feed them. So that money is going to go towards food.

So, one thing I can say for certain is that Skid Row will be fed from "Beauty 2 the Streetz" for the rest of 2022. I'm a mom, we have to be practical. As much as I'd love to be frivolous, we want to make sure that these people get warm meals every day as much as we can get out there. So that money is going to go toward food, nurturing them. And just making sure that they survive another year.

COLLINS: Well, Shirley Raines, congratulations.

RAINES: Thank you.

COLLINS: This is amazing and thank you for your work.

RAINES: Thank you, queen, I appreciate you.