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New Day Sunday

Omicron Variant Fuels Christmas Weekend Chaos As New Cases Surge; Biden Struggles With Messaging As COVID-19 Cases Surge; Archbishop Desmond Tutu Has Died At Age 90; Storm System In The West Continues To Bring Heavy Rain And Snow; Frontline Health Workers Under Attack From Patients, Families; Librarian Fight Back Against Push To Ban Books From Schools. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired December 26, 2021 - 06:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. I'm Boris Sanchez. Christi Paul has a well-earned morning off.

This final week of 2021 brings a new push to contain the Omicron variant. How government officials are working to stop the spread as it sweeps across the country and potentially alters your New Year's Eve plans.

Plus, the world is mourning the loss of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. More on his extraordinary life, legacy, and the tributes now pouring in, coming up.

And a tale of two coasts. As part of the West sees heavy snow and bitter cold temperatures, parts of the East could see record-breaking heat. Where we're seeing summer-like temperatures in your forecast.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a day not too long ago when I had to stop and think, when they come in with handcuffs and they come in with a warrant for my arrest.


SANCHEZ: And librarians afraid of being fired, or worse, just for doing their jobs. Why some say they're being targeted and how they're now fighting back.

We're so grateful to have you this Sunday, December 26th. I hope that Christmas hangover isn't too bad. We appreciate you starting your morning with us.

And we begin with the U.S. racing toward a record number of daily new COVID cases fueled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant. In some parts of the country hospitals are once again stretched thin as emergency rooms and ICU beds begin to fill up. Right now more than 71,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19. The increase in cases also causing major travel disruptions this weekend. Several major airlines have canceled more than 1,000 night because of staffing shortages.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov has more.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Americans celebrated another Christmas during a pandemic, many saw holiday joy turn to frustration. With Omicron cases on the rise across the nation, Airlines canceling more than 1,000 flights this holiday weekend citing COVID staffing shortages and bad weather, leave passengers in limbo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god, we won't be able to get home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been constantly checking all kind of different Web sites, you know, the airport sites, the airline sites.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not testing anymore.

KAFANOV: From coast to coast on Christmas morning, those who did plan to see loved ones, taking no chances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My girlfriend tested positive earlier this week and, you know, it's Christmas morning, I'm just trying to go see my family and, you know, they're real COVID conscious, I'm vaxxed and boosted, but, you know, we're trying to be safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got tested because I'm seeing my family today.

KAFANOV: That is those lucky enough to get a test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The line goes all the way back there but we've been here for about two hours.

KAFANOV: Others saw their Christmas plans wiped out by a COVID diagnosis.

BRIAN GODDARD, TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID: I tested positive for COVID. So it's Currently just hanging out at the apartment by myself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was devastated that I was going to have to miss the holidays.

KAFANOV: The surge in cases leaving many medical workers and personnel stretched thin with little to celebrate.

DR. DAVID CUSTODO, PRESIDENT, SUMMA HEALTH SYSTEM, AKRON: It's literally devastating and heartbreaking that we are in this condition that we are now.

DR. ANDREA ROWLAND-FISHER, HENNEPIN HEALTHCARE: Hospitals in the Twin Cities are overwhelmed and unable to take new patients because we're bursting at our seams already.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have a time for a prayer for frontline workers, I would do that. KAFANOV: To boost the depleted workforce the CDC issued new guidance

for vaccinated asymptomatic healthcare workers to slash their quarantine from 10 down to 7 days. Doctors hopeful that the Omicron wave will soon pass.

DR. STEVEN MCDONALD, EMERGENCY MEDICAL PHYSICIAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY IRVING MEDICAL CENTER: I am hopeful in that the data coming out of the U.K. and out of South Africa showing that these patients infected with Omicron are much less likely to be hospitalized and much less likely to be severely ill and so that alone is giving me a little bit of faith that 2022 will be a meaningfully different year.

KAFANOV: A hope likely shared by all on this Christmas weekend.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Los Angeles.


SANCHEZ: Thanks to Lucy for that report.

Concerns about COVID and canceled flights simply not enough to keep millions of Americans from hitting the road and the skies this holiday season. And many who spoke to CNN's Nadia Romero say they are taking every precaution. Here's her report.



NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): More than a thousand flights canceled Christmas weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and we're seeing some airlines like Delta with almost 300 cancellations on Christmas Day and that has had an impact for travelers all across the country.

We're seeing those impacts, too, internationally with some of those flights being canceled as well. So here at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport we definitely saw a much slower Christmas morning because of some of those cancellations and because of the Omicron variant. The Delta Airlines and other airlines are telling us that their cancellations are largely due to the variant and their flight crews not being able to fly, either being exposed to COVID-19 or testing positive for the virus. We also know that some of those cancellations are due to weather.

So behind me you can see some people are here at the airport, but nothing like what we saw during Thanksgiving. We were breaking pre- pandemic levels in 2019. Now we have more people traveling according to the TSA on Christmas eve, this Christmas eve, compared to Christmas eve of 2020, but not as many as 2019. And that may be due to some of the cancellations and the rise of the Omicron variant as there is rising coronavirus cases all across the country.

But we spoke with some travelers about why they said it was just so necessary for them to hit the road and fly out to see their family and friends this Christmas weekend. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTA MACFARLANE, AIR TRAVELER: Very concerned. I got gloves and everything, sanitizer, you see I got the special mask. Yes, but you just got to see your family. You've got to walk with God. That's the only thing you could do. Only God could pull you through.

MATTHEW MONTEMARO, AIR TRAVELER: Seeing family. So going back to New York to see family from Atlanta and COVID has impacted travel quite a bit. But just traveling safe.


ROMERO: Now we spoke with some travelers who are still going on those international destinations. One man told me he hasn't seen his family in Paris since December 2019, and he was going to do whatever it took to get out to Paris this Christmas. We spoke with another woman who says she's traveling from Atlanta to Baltimore, and for the first time she will see her grandson. First time she will be able to meet him and wrap her arms around him. And she says she expects that to be an emotional moment.

Nadia Romero, CNN, Atlanta.


SANCHEZ: Thanks, Nadia.

So the White House is struggling to meet some of the demands brought on by the rapid surge of the Omicron variant. Last week, the president announced that his administration would take additional steps to deal with the surge of COVID-19 cases this winter. But with millions traveling and testing capabilities limited, critics say it may be too little too late.

Let's get to CNN White House correspondent John Harwood who joins us now live from the White House.

And John, the president made responding to the pandemic the cornerstone of his first year in office. Clearly COVID is going to be a large part of his second year in office as well.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Boris, he faces the same challenge that he faced when he took office last January. It's of a lesser severity, we've got a huge spike in cases, a spike in deaths. Those are at lower levels than they were before and we're not seeing the levels of hospitalization that we saw in January 2021 when President Biden took office.

But even though we've gotten 200 million Americans fully vaccinated, many of them boosted, the combination of determined vaccine resistance as well as these variants -- first Delta, now Omicron -- that has kept the administration chasing to catch up with this pandemic as governments around the world are chasing it. So it is a huge challenge for President Biden. Now this is a president who had a son who served in Iraq and yesterday

he performed the traditional commander-in-chief's duty of delivering a Christmas message to troops serving overseas. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want you to know how much we care. We're grateful for your courage, your sacrifice, not only your sacrifice but your family's sacrifice. The holidays really bring into sharp focus. Being apart is just part of the job, but it's a hard part of the job, and -- but it's who you guys are. You're solid -- you know, I get criticized for saying this occasionally, but you're the solid steel spine of the nation. You really are. Always vigilant, always ready when duty calls.


HARWOOD: There's no question, Boris, that as a matter of economics, as a matter of public health, as a matter of politics, this president is in a battle to catch up with what's going on with the coronavirus and try to return American life to normal.

Now before the holidays he announced that the administration was going to make 500 million tests available to Americans for free. You have to go on to a Web site and get those tests. But everyone who's tried to find rapid tests at grocery stores or pharmacies around the country has seen the short supply of tests and that's become a very significant metric for trying to track Omicron.

Less severe somewhat, the early data suggests, but people need to track it with these rapid tests and that's one of the big challenges is making those widely available to Americans so they can keep up with it -- Boris.


SANCHEZ: Yes. Frustrating experience especially if you're trying to make sure that you're safe to go see loved ones that may be susceptible to a serious case of illness from the virus.

John Harwood from the White House, thank you so much.

Joining us now to discuss all things COVID is Dr. Anand Swaminathan. He's an emergency medicine physician.

Dr. Swaminathan, thanks so much for sharing part of your weekend with us. First, I want to get your read on where things stand with Omicron right now. Cases are increasing rapidly. Fortunately, though, on the whole as John Harwood pointed out, hospitalizations don't seem to be spiking as dramatically. Do you expect that to potentially change?

DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: I think we are going to see a change, Boris. I think that while we are not seeing the same rate of hospitalization per case because there's so many cases, we're still seeing high levels of hospitalizations. It depends on where you are in the country, but where I am in New Jersey, New York, we're seeing huge spikes in cases and hospitalizations.

Fortunately we're not seeing the same spike in deaths, but as those cases continue to spike, as more hospitalizations accrue, they're going to see more deaths simply because we don't have the staff, we don't have nurses, we don't have doctors to take care of all the patients. And then of course we don't have the right facilities because we are so stretched thin. So I think we're going to see, as the cases rise, we're going to see that impact down the line.

We haven't quite seen it yet. And again these are in highly vaccinated areas, New York, New Jersey, these are areas where vaccine rates are high and so we shouldn't see as many deaths, we shouldn't see as many hospitalizations, but as Omicron spreads out to places with lower vaccination rates there's no reason to think that we won't see the same level of hospitalizations and deaths we saw with Delta, except for the fact that there are so many more cases because of Omicron.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Doctor, so the CDC and the state of New York changed guidance this week. They shortened the time that health care workers have to spend in isolation after testing positive for COVID. I noticed that you shared some strong feelings about that decision on social media. Specifically in New York. What struck you about that decision?

SWAMINATHAN: Well, I think what we're seeing is that CDC gave a little bit too much laxity to individual hospitals and hospital systems to make exact decisions. And so the CDC said, you know, we have emergency situations where we need those health care workers. We understand that. We understand that it's part of our duty as health care workers. But it's also we shouldn't be going to work sick. And that's what these rules are really putting in place.

They're requiring people to come back after five days of having COVID, even if they still have symptoms. They say minor symptoms, but those are a little bit in the eye of the beholder. The fact is that we are asking health care workers who are still symptomatic, which means they can still spread, to come back to work. That means they're going to spread to their patients, they're going to spread to their colleagues, which is going to force more colleagues out of work.

This is kind of a very dangerous situation to be looking at and we have asked so much of health care workers over the last two years. To ask them to come back to work sick while they can still spread the disease is really a little bit too far. What we should be seeing instead is shorter quarantine periods with a rapid test saying you are negative before you go back to work. That's the safest way to do this.

And I think we are really violating these health care workers again that have been so stretched and what we're going to see as a result of that is more health care workers leaving. We've already lost about 20 percent of health care workers. We can't afford to lose any more.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Obviously, the crux of the argument that you're trying to make has to do with testing and tests being available. I'm trying to get your perspective on why it's taken so long to make tests readily available now two years into the pandemic. It seems like a lot of folks are having a hard time just getting their hands on one. SWAMINATHAN: We're having trouble getting our hands on rapid tests,

we're having trouble on the hospitals of having enough reagent to do the test that we need for patients who are coming to the hospital. And this is kind of a foreseeable event. We can do this. Two years ago that we had to ramp up testing. We still haven't ramped up testing nearly as much as we should.

When we look at other countries where you get a pack of seven tests every week or every day if you need them. Here we see long lines trying to find tests. And that's really again unconscionable. This was foreseeable. For us to try to fix this now when we're in a surge is the wrong way to do this. This should have been fixed months ago. We should have been pushing to get more tests out, more tests approved, making sure that they are safe for people, but we should have had this a long time ago.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Hopefully it will change soon and they will become more readily available especially in hospitals to aid health care workers such as yourself.

Dr. Anand Swaminathan, thank you so much for the time.


SANCHEZ: Of course.

Just ahead, we'll be taking a look at the incredible life and legacy of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who passed away at the age of 90.

Plus, a winter storm dumping snow in parts of the country, while others are seeing summer-like heat.


Where it's going to feel more like July than December after a quick break.


SANCHEZ: New this morning, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has passed away. The 90-year-old is being remembered as a human rights activist, a Nobel Laureate and a man with enormous compassion for the oppressed.

As CNN's David McKenzie reports, during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, he was a voice of peace in the midst of violence.


JUDA NGWENYA, PHOTOGRAPHER: You find your cousin had been killed --

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When we spoke to late photographer Juda Ngwenya in 2016, he remembered a different time.

NGWENYA: We've got funeral each week. People getting killed. And then you don't find one person, five, six, seven, eight people, mass funeral happen.

MCKENZIE: During the 1980s, the apartheid regime was at war with the black majority. One of its goals, to turn the liberation movement against itself. Neighbors betrayed neighbors, friends became informants. In this maelstrom, a diminutive Anglican bishop was ever present. Desmond Tutu was never afraid to step up to the racist regime, using his bully pulpit of peace.

(On-camera): During apartheid, Archbishop Tutu's position in the church gave him a semblance of protection and his deep faith gave him an unwavering moral compass.

(Voice-over): Even when it was deeply unpopular.

BISHOP DESMOND TUTU, ANGLICAN CHURCH: I am not a politician, even if there are those who say so. I speak from the Bible.

NGWENYA: The car was standing down there.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): For Ngwenya, Tutu's defining moment came at a funeral.


NGWENYA: This is not what we wanted. We wanted to kill him.

MCKENZIE: Mourners wanted to throw a suspected informer into his burning car. But Tutu saved the man from the mob, saying he should be forgiven, that the struggle should rise above the violence of the state.

NGWENYA: Tutu is a man of God that talked the truth. Nothing else but the truth.

MCKENZIE (on-camera): But people listened.

NGWENYA: People listened to Tutu, no matter what.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): And during those dark days, with ANC leadership in jail or exiled, Tutu was the voice of the struggle. But after liberation, Tutu's embrace of the ruling ANC was awkward.

D. TUTU: You and your government don't represent me.

MCKENZIE: When the rainbow nation faltered, he spoke up on corruption, AIDS policy, diplomacy.

D. TUTU: One day we will stop praying for the defeat of the ANC government. You are disgraceful.

MPHO TUTU, DESMOND AND LEAH TUTU LEGACY FOUNDATION: He's an equal opportunity irritant.


MCKENZIE: But Tutu's daughter says now that he's gone South Africa will lose its conscience.

M. TUTU: South Africa will lose a champion and a coach.

MCKENZIE: She says Tutu always cheered South Africa when it did the right thing and consistently called the country to task when it did not.


SANCHEZ: That was CNN's David McKenzie reporting.

For more reaction to the death of Archbishop Tutu I want to bring in CNN correspondent Larry Madowo.

Larry, the president of South Africa called Archbishop Tutu a patriot without equal. He obviously played a pivotal role in bringing about an end to apartheid, but that's really only part of his legacy.

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. He was much more than that. This is an Anglican priest who become one of the leading opponents of white minority rule in South Africa. That's why he won the Nobel Prize, Boris, in 1984, a full decade before apartheid finally fell in South Africa. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by President Obama. This speaks to his global reach.

This man who I remember a couple years ago flying from Johannesburg to Cape Town, and he came on the flight, and he got a standing ovation, people were clapping and hollering, because of the love they had for this man who spoke from the pulpit, but gave deep political speeches, while insisting that he was not just a politician, he was a priest.

This is the current bishop of Cape Town remembering who Archbishop Desmond Tutu was.


ARCHBISHOP THABO MAKGOBA, CAPE TOWN: Desmond Tutu's legacy is model strength, model courage. He felt with the people, in public and alone, he cried, because he felt people's pain. And he loved, not just loved, he cackled with delight when he shared their joy.


MADOWO: Desmond Tutu was often called the Arch, but he had a great sense of humor even when he discussed serious issues and beyond apartheid in South Africa he spoke out on major international issues. He was opposed to the Iraq war. He phoned Condoleezza Rice to express his opposition to that.

He campaigned for LBGTQ rights which is a controversial topic in South Africa. And across the Africa continent here he campaigned for Palestinian statehood, he in later life was one of the elders, this group of international leaders set up by Nelson Mandela.

So he was a man who really did speak out against injustice wherever he saw it around the world. And today there is mourning all across Africa. One of the greatest Africans, one of the most consequential leaders ever to have lived has fallen and in South Africa there will be a lot of people who are sad today because he's one of the last generation of Nelson Mandela, people who fought to make sure that it was a just and equal world, not just in the African continent, Boris, but around the world.

SANCHEZ: Yes. He was a global icon and set an incredible example.

Larry Madowo from Kenya, thank you so much.

A Christmas eve tragedy may have been caused by Christmas lights on a tree. Up next, we have more on a fire that left a father and two sons dead and a family grieving.

We'll be back. Stay with us.



SANCHEZ: Here are some of the top stories we're following this morning. A tragedy in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. A father, his two sons, and their dogs, are dead after their house caught fire on Christmas Day. The fire marshal says the cause is likely a combination of electrical issues and a dry Christmas tree.

Conditions were so volatile when first responders arrived, they initially had a hard time getting into the house, but the family's mom and eldest son were able to escape with only minor burns. The chief of police there says they are still investigating the incident.


CHIEF SCOTT MCEFREE, QUAKERTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA POLICE: It's still under investigation, but it appears as if the Christmas tree was the cause of the fire.


SANCHEZ: So far, a GoFundMe page created to help the family has raised over $200,000.

In Minnesota, authorities are investigating a multivehicle crash that happened on Christmas Day. Police estimating that about 50 cars and semitrucks were involved in this massive pileup. You can see in the video just how long the line of cars involved in the accident stretched. It caused the Interstate to shut down for several hours. Luckily, though, no fatalities or life-threatening injuries were reported. The cause of the crash still unclear, but obviously state troopers warned that as snow comes down, the chances of crashes go up.

And in California, emergency crews responded to storm damage at a condominium complex late last night in the Galita Valley which is near Santa Barbara. Officials say people reported, quote, "a tornado-like event causing damage." It happened just hours after the National Weather Service warned of the possibility of hail and strong winds for that area.


The storm caused downed trees, power outages and damage to several cars. Fortunately, though, no injuries were immediately reported.

Today, storm conditions are going to continue in the West as a weather system continues to impact millions. Let's get to CNN Allison Chinchar. She is live from the CNN Weather Center. Allison, what are you seeing in the forecast?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Boris. Yes, we've got a couple of different waves of systems here to talk about. We've got a lot of snow action, mainly focused in the western half of the country, but we're now starting to see it spread into other areas as well. And we're talking a tremendous amount of snow here. It's why you've got so many areas and pink and purple indicating winter weather advisories and winter storm warning stretching basically from California, all the way to Michigan.

Looking at all of this moisture, again, now, this is several different waves here. That first wave that was over the Rockies yesterday, now starting to push into areas of the Midwest for today. And then the second wave beginning to arrive into the West again to do it with not much of a break in between there, unfortunately.

And again, just because it's wave after wave, look at the forecast accumulation here. A lot of these higher elevations of the Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierras, you're talking the snow is going to be measured in feet, not quite as high over areas of the Midwest, likely just a few inches, mostly widespread. You're talking about four to six. But when you see the darker purple color, it could be reaching about eight to 10. And then that pink color, you're talking in excess of a foot of snow.

The thing is, unfortunately for this area, it's not just that it's the snow, it's the cold to go along with it. These are actual temperatures, not the wind chill, the temperatures right now, 14 in Minneapolis, five degrees in Bismarck. When you do factor in the wind, it's even colder. Minus seven is what it feels like in Bismarck, minus 12 in Fargo, only feels like four degrees in Minneapolis right now.

I wish I could tell you we had better news the closer we would get to New Year's. Unfortunately, we're still going to be seeing a lot of cold temperatures. Take a look at Fargo going from 23 and 25 down to a high of only one once we get to Tuesday. Minneapolis also going to see some pretty cool temperatures over the next couple of days.

Interestingly though, the southern tier of the country, especially the southeast, you're dealing with intense heat, lots of record highs possible Boris, not just today, but likely over the next several days.

SANCHEZ: It's hard to stomach that picture and what it means long term. Allison Chinchar, thank you so much.

So, this is really powerful video you should take a moment to watch. Its new body camera video capturing deputies in Kentucky as they found and rescue two infants in a bathtub. This is after their home was destroyed and they were swept up in a deadly tornado outbreak earlier this month. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 329, we got the ten -- or the -- I think a 15 month. Central, can you send us meds in here?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, hold on. We'll try to get them to you.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good there. No cuts on her legs.



SANCHEZ: You can hear the faint cry of one of the children as deputies discover them. Their grandmother says that as the tornado approached, she scrambled trying to put them in the tub for safety. She left them with a blanket, a pillow, and a Bible. The children were just 15- months-old and 3-months-old. One was taken to the hospital for treatment of a head injury but they were both alive and we understand they're both doing better.

Still ahead, ICU doctors say their job is getting more difficult as more patients demand on -- demand unreliable and risky treatments for COVID. We take a closer look at what these health care workers are facing just ahead.



SANCHEZ: Once celebrated as the heroes of the pandemic, some of the goodwill toward health care workers appears to be dissipating. Despite spending nearly two years fighting on the front lines, they're now dealing with threats from patients and even their families demanding unproven treatments for COVID. CNN's Ed Lavandera spoke with doctors in St. Cloud Minnesota who have come face to face with a wave of misinformation.


DR. JACK LYONS, CRITICAL CARE PHYSICIAN: My name is Jack, an ICU doctor here.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Jack Lyons spends his days treating COVID-19 patients, fighting for their lives inside St. Cloud Hospital in Minnesota. Like so many other doctors, he feels the strain.

What's it been like to work in this atmosphere?

LYONS: It's exhausting. It is frequently heartbreaking. It is demoralizing at times.

LAVANDERA: Dr. Lyons says it's also getting hostile as patients are demanding bogus medical treatments

LAVANDERA (on camera): Are people treating these treatments like they're picking items off of a menu at a restaurant?

LYONS: Absolutely. Folks act as if they can come into the hospital and request any certain therapy they want or conversely, decline any therapy that they want with the idea being that somehow they can pick and choose and direct their therapy. And that doesn't work.

LAVANDERA (on camera): That's putting healthcare workers at risk. Hospitals are facing a slew of lawsuits demanding risky treatments. Across the country, there are reports of growing hostility between medical workers and patients and their families. It's a daily dose of threats and vitriol.


LYONS: Insult your intelligence, they insult your ability, and most hurtful they say that by not using these therapies, you are intentionally trying to harm the people that we've given everything to save.

LAVANDERA: What has been the worst experience you've had?

LYONS: The most difficult experience we've had is a patient family who, under a pseudonym, had made threats against the hospital. There was a reference to making sure the hospital is locked, and we've got people that are coming for you.

LAVANDERA: Was it a death threat?

LYONS: I'm not sure how a person would take. We're going to come to that -- we're going to march on the hospital, we're coming for you, as anything other than a death threat.


LAVANDERA: Barbara Chapman is a nurse practitioner and works at the University of Texas at Tyler. Last summer, she started a hotline offering teachers and health care workers mental health support.

CHAPMAN: I used to think of it as being overwhelmed, the healthcare workers are overwhelmed. That's -- it doesn't even address it. The way I dress it now with folks when I talk to them is I refer to it as moral injury. LAVANDERA: What do you mean by that?

CHAPMAN: We want to help folks. And now that folks aren't getting vaccinated, they -- they're not believing us, they're questioning our education and our background, it's hurtful, we're exhausted, we're tired. And so, we have been morally injured. [06:40:18]

LAVANDERA: Chapman says some nurses have endured so much abuse that even getting them to walk from their cars into work is a challenge.

CHAPMAN: It's like when a veteran comes back from the war. He may be out of the war, but he hasn't left that war.

LAVANDERA: I mean, it's crazy to me that you're talking about a healthcare job as if it was walking into a battlefield.

CHAPMAN: It's a battlefield. It is a battlefield.

LAVANDERA: Dr. Jack Lyons often thinks of the pandemics early days, when grateful communities banged pots and pans to honor frontline health care workers.

LYONS: The vast majority of patients we take care of now come to our interactions with distress.

LAVANDERA (on camera): So, yes, that feeling of goodwill is gone.

LYONS: Long since dissipated.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ed Lavandera, CNN, St. Cloud, Minnesota.


SANCHEZ: Thanks to Ed for that sobering report.

Three members of the Korean pop group BTS have now tested positive for COVID-19. RM and Jin were diagnosed with COVID-19 yesterday. Another member, Suga tested positive for the virus on Friday. All three were in quarantine after returning from the United States.

The South Korea requires all international travelers to quarantine for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status, and to take two PCR tests before being released. This week, the country reported a record- high number of critically ill COVID-19 patients for four consecutive days.

Meantime, countries across Europe are scaling back or canceling New Year's Eve celebrations as they see a record number of COVID-19 cases. CNN's Barbie Nadeau joins us now from Rome. Barbie, where is the concern greatest in Europe right now?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's really across here. We saw a record in France, over 100,000 daily cases on Christmas Eve. And we've seen here in Italy, almost 55,000 cases. We haven't seen those numbers since at all actually, the whole pandemic so far. One of the things that is a little bit encouraging though is we're not

seeing these spikes in hospitalizations, but so many of the healthcare workers have COVID that we're seeing some struggles with those healthcare systems and taking care of people.

Germany, which was the epicenter of the Delta Variant is also seeing a lot of arising cases due to Omicron. The U.K. has reached over 100,000 cases as well. A lot of people from U.K. are blocked from coming into Europe. They can't go to France, they can't go to Germany.

And, you know, we got through Christmas, a lot of governments turn a blind eye, let people get together with their families, but New Year's Eve is going to be a bust. I mean, here in Rome, they've canceled the big concert. In Paris, they've canceled the fireworks that are so legendary in that city.

And we're seeing bans in all sorts of gatherings in Italy now. We have a mandatory outdoor face mask requirements. So, you can't even walk your dog without wearing a face mask. All of these countries are doing what they can to try to stop a full lockdown. So, if that means restricting some movement, restricting some fun, restricting parties and things like that to get through this upcoming weekend New Year's celebration, that's what they're going to do to avoid a harder lockdown later on. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Barbara Nadeau from Rome, thank you so much.

Up next, we're going to take you to a place in Texas where librarians are working hard to keep all kinds of books on the shelves. Stay with us.



SANCHEZ: As the debate over how America's history is taught in schools continues across the country, a group of librarians in Texas say they are focused on making their book collections more reflective of the increasingly diverse community in their schools.

But according to them, their work is now coming under fire by parents and lawmakers alike. CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro has that story.


EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a school librarian in Texas.

Why are you afraid to show your face?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because there is a day not too long ago when I had to stop and think when they come in with handcuffs and they come in with a warrant for my arrest alleging that I've provided obscene material to minors. Who am I going to call first?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Across Texas, protesters at school board meetings are accusing educators of forcing pornography or obscene content on children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not a political thing. This is not a witch hunt. This is genuine concern for children. It's abuse. It is green behavior. Its predatory.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: The anger is largely aimed at school libraries, and many Texas politicians are on board. In October, Republican state legislator Matt Krause requested every school district in the state scour their libraries for a list of 850 books.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The infamous Texas lists, the pattern seems to be books that are representative of LGBTQIA subjects and characters and topics. Books that may contain depictions or narratives of sexual violence, survivor stories, some books that are about racism.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: The list includes New Kid, a graphic novel about a Black student struggles fitting in and a majority White school. The Letter Q: Queer Writers Note To Their Younger Selves, and The Cider House Rules, a coming of age story that features a character who performs abortions.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott took things a step further ordering officials to investigate any criminal activity in public schools after complaints about two LGBTQ-themed books he said we're pornographic.

MARY WOODWARD, PRESIDENT-ELECT, TEXAS LIBRARY ASSOCIATION: I have never experienced anything like that before where a government agency or any kind of government entity was interested and specifically what kinds of books were in the library.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: The Texas Library Association is traditionally a pretty sleepy advocacy group but the heated rhetoric is forcing that to change. Last week, the group set up an anonymous hotline for librarians afraid of job consequences.

WOODWARD: School Librarians don't go into this business to harm kids. They are working really, really hard to select books that represent everyone on their campus.

This is happening all over the country, LGBTQ and racial-themed books written for children and young adults are facing powerful resistance. Educators are being put on notice.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is pornography plain and simple and it does not belong in our school.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Just since the start of the school year, the American Library Association has tracked more than 230 book challenges nationwide. The ALA says there's been a dramatic uptick in challenges to books featuring LGBTQ and racial themes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: LGBTQIA plus students like me were being harassed for not conforming to antiquated notions of gender roles and how should -- they should express themselves. CAROLYN FOOTE, CO-FOUNDER, FREADOM FIGHTERS: Here we go. Yay.


FOOTE: Here we go. There it is.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Librarians are starting to fight back in a very librarian way.

FOOTE: This week, we're sharing books that were gifts in people's lives. And so I'm going to kick this off by sending the first my first tweet from our Freedom Friday account.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Carolyn Foote is a retired librarian, and one of the founders of the group FReadom Fighters. In just a month, it's become the grassroots way librarians under threat find and help each other.

FOOTE: It's amazing how widespread these book challenges are. People are contacting us like privately from all over the country saying, Can you help me?


FOOTE: Worried they might lose their job.

CALZADA: I've heard that too. Or I'm hearing this from my district, or they don't know this. What do I do?

FOOTE: They're facing pressure, external pressure. Like, what if I'm called out at a board meeting or someone's in front of my house. So, really, it's a time when people need a lot of support.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Librarians helping librarians till librarians can get back to helping kids.

CALZAD: I grew up reading Trumpet of the Swan and Little House on the Prairie. And I mean, there were no you know, Hispanic girls. That's a disservice to kids. And so we work really hard as librarians to make sure that kids have books that they can see themselves in. But we also want to offer books where kids can learn about other kids' lives.

FOOTE: And who knows that that's something that would get you demonized?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Governor Greg Abbott's office didn't respond when we asked for comment on what librarians in Texas are telling us. We also reach out to Matt Krause and stop by his office.


Do you think you're going to win this or do you think you're going to lose this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not about whether I will win or lose this. I think it's a point in our culture and in our society when we have to ask ourselves what do we stand to lose if we don't correct action and course now. We can't afford as a democracy to believe anything else than we'll correct this.


SANCHEZ: Our thanks to Evan McMorris-Santoro for that report.

Both Aaron Rodgers and LeBron James had home field advantage on Christmas Day, but did it matter? Some highlights after a quick break.



SANCHEZ: So we're actually going to hold off on the highlights till a little bit later this morning to tell you about this week's difference-maker, Detroit Pistons guard Josh Jackson. He knows how hard it can be for single moms during the holiday season. He lost his stepfather back in 2014. Recently, Jackson decided to give back by taking a group of single moms on a holiday shopping spree. Watch this.


JOSH JACKSON, GUARD, DETROIT PISTONS: Hi, Nora. How are you doing? I did have a father and he ended up passing away as I got a little bit older. So, for a short amount of time, I grew up with a single mother. I watched my mom do a lot of things, break her neck to make things happen for me. And so, that was how I came to choose on single mothers today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Overwhelmed with joy. Just happy, really appreciative. I'm so thankful and grateful.

JACKSON: I'll push it for you.


JACKSON: I will. I don't mind. What you're looking for? I'm following y'all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at him going handyman work too.

JACKSON: I don't remember the toy section being this big. They've got like eight hours of toys. It used to only be like three or four. They're going to drive you crazy with those. They're just a group of people who I feel like don't get enough attention and basically are nothing short of superheroes, you know, so I really want to do something special for them today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not easy. It's definitely not easy. So, I appreciate him very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I have nothing before this, so, yes, thank you all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have a good one, Mr. Jackson. Thank you, again.

JACKSON: All right, you too. It was nice meeting you all.


SANCHEZ: And great work by Josh Jackson. He is this week's difference- maker.

We've had a quick programming note for you. CNN is having a New Year's Eve party and you're invited. You can join Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen for CNN New Year's Eve live. A show that starts right here on CNN at 8:00 p.m.

Buenos Dias. Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. I'm Boris Sanchez. Christi Paul has the morning off. This final week of 2021 brings a new push to contain the Omicron variant. We'll tell you how government officials are working to stop the spread as it sweeps across the country and could potentially alter your New Year's Eve plans.

Plus, the world is mourning the loss of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We have more on his extraordinary life, his legacy, and the tributes that are now pouring in.

And families in Hawaii are still demanding answers weeks after learning their water has been contaminated thanks to a fuel leak. Some now saying they've had symptoms for months.

And cultivating a dream. The inspiring story of one little girl now making history as Georgia's youngest farmer.

We're thrilled to have you bright and early this Sunday December 26. I hope that Christmas hangover isn't too bad. Thanks so much for waking up with us. We begin this morning with the surge of new COVID cases now nationwide fueled by the Omicron variant even though early research indicated the new strain may cause less severe illness, healthcare resources.