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CNN TONIGHT: Biden Concedes Not Enough Has Been Done To Expand COVID Testing Capacity: "We Have More Work To Do"; Growing GOP Push To Expand Jobless Benefits For Workers Who Quit Over Vaccine Mandates; Flight Attendants' Union Pushes Back On Calls For Shorter COVID Isolation Period For Workers. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 27, 2021 - 21:00   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: An update, on a mystery, we reported on last week that began more than 130 years ago.

Virginia officials say, they believe, they discovered the time capsule, they were expecting to find, while removing a pedestal that once supported the statue of Robert E. Lee, in Richmond.

It fits the make and size, of the one that was reportedly buried there, in 1887, unlike the capsule, they were surprised to find, 10 days ago. That one was smaller. Officials say, it was likely buried, by men involved, in the pedestal's construction.

The larger capsule, found today, was in water. Conservators are working to open it, hoping the box is still sealed, and wasn't breached.

The news continues now. So, let's hand it over to Michael Smerconish, and "CNN TONIGHT."


I am Michael Smerconish. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT.

Merry Christmas, to all, who celebrated, this weekend. Although in some respects, it doesn't feel like the most wonderful time of year.

Instead, it feels like we're all just one degree of separation, from COVID, right now, as if we all know someone, who's just been infected, or exposed to the virus, or perhaps, you yourself just tested positive, vaxxed, or unvaxxed, boosted or not, with symptoms or without, and now are quarantined again.

We have some breaking news, on the quarantine front, this evening. New guidance from the CDC, on how long those infected, should stay isolated, not just health care workers. This is a big change. So, stay tuned for that.

But what a way to close out 2021 with an Omicron bang? And that brings me to our survey question tonight.

Which year do you think history will judge worse? 2020 or 2021?

It's really a toss-up, for many of us, right? Let us know your vote, by going to my website, at We'll share the results, later in the program.

And what will 2022 bring? Can we collectively look forward to the New Year, as a nation that is still without unity on immunity?

And with this virus, testing us so much again, testing is still such a huge problem, with his latest variant, crashing down on us, something even President Biden conceded, on his call with governors, earlier today.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Seeing how tough it was, for some folks, to get a test, this weekend, shows that we have more work to do.

I know the lines have gotten very long in some states. That's why I ordered FEMA to set up pop-up sites, in places, with high demand, to shorten the wait.

We went from no over-the-counter tests, in January, to 46 million in October, 100 million in November, and almost 200 million in December. But it's not enough. It's clearly not enough.


SMERCONISH: Detection, of course - detection, of course, is key to prevention. And America's testing capacity isn't enough to match demand. So, when will we catch up?

As you heard the President admit, there's a lot more work to do on that front. And again mentioned the government's purchase of a half billion rapid at-home tests. But they won't be available, until sometime next month.

Too late to avoid disruptions to holiday plans, and keep countless people, from being sickened, including loads of airline crew members. That's why thousands of flights have been canceled, at the busiest travel time of the year.

And speaking of air travel, are mandates for unvaccinated fliers on the horizon? Right now, only international travelers must show proof- of-vac status, and a negative COVID test, to board a U.S.-bound flight.

Though Biden hasn't deemed vaccine passports necessary, yet, for domestic travel, his Chief Medical Adviser, Dr. Fauci, sounded warm to the idea, this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: When you make vaccination a requirement, that's another incentive, to get more people vaccinated. If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think that's something that seriously should be considered.


SMERCONISH: But then, he walked it back, a bit, on CNN, this evening.


FAUCI: No, what I said, Jim, was that everything, when - that comes up, as a possibility, we put it on the table, and we consider it. That does not mean that it is going to be likely to happen.

Right now, I don't think people should expect that we're going to have a requirement, in domestic flights, for people to be vaccinated.

When I was asked that question, I gave an honest answer. It's on the table, and we consider it. But that doesn't mean it's going to happen. I doubt, if we're going to see something like that, in the reasonably foreseeable future.


SMERCONISH: Meanwhile, with this virus, exploding like wildfire, the CDC just actually shortened its recommended isolation period, for those, who test positive, for COVID, from 10 days to five days, if they're asymptomatic, and then, should continue, with at least five more days, of masking, when around others.

A shortened isolation period is something our first guest told us he'd like to see. And he thinks it's exactly what our country needs right now, and will tell us why.

Joining us is top health authority, Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Dr. Jha, it sounds counterintuitive, in one sense, to reduce that isolation time period, given the spread of this disease. Why, in your expert opinion, does it make sense?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, first of all, thanks for having me back, Michael.


Here's why. First, we know that most people, who are contagious, are contagious, in those first five days. It doesn't capture everybody. But most people, it gets in those first five days.

Second is, we know a lot of people, find the 10-day isolation burdensome enough, that they're not getting tested, and they're not actually following through.

What I'm hoping is that this new policy does two things.

First, it says that you only need to isolate for five days. I think that improves the incentive, for people to get tested, and isolate.

Second, the policy is also pretty clear that after five days, you have to wear a mask, for another five days. And so, for the day six through 10, that you would have been isolated, you still have to be wearing a mask, and you have to be asymptomatic.

I don't think this is going to contribute to more spread. I do think it's going to create an incentive, for more people, to get tested. And obviously, for people, who need to get back to their families, and get back to their kids, get back to their jobs, it lets them do that as well. So, overall, I think this is the right policy. It's a good balancing act.

SMERCONISH: At the end of that five-day isolation time period, should one need to get tested?

JHA: Well, actually this is something I have written about. And I believe that having a rapid antigen test, at the end of those five days, would make a difference. It'd be helpful. Because if you're negative on that, that means you're no longer contagious.

The CDC did not put that in. I wish they had. I think they - I don't know why they didn't exactly. My best guess is we don't have a lot of those rapid antigen tests available. But I think that would have been a helpful addition.

SMERCONISH: Right. Quote, "For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for SARS-COVID-2 at day 5 after exposure."

You think, if there were sufficient tests, they probably would have altered that and strengthened that recommendation?

JHA: That's my best guess. And look, I wish they would. And most importantly, two years in, we should not be having a shortage of tests. So, that's a different failure that we got to deal with.

My take is, soon, hopefully over the next month, we're going to see a lot more tests, come online. And, at that point, I hope it becomes part of the kind of standard operating procedure, for ending isolation that you need to get a negative test as well.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Jha, I have a chart that summarizes, where we are, in comparison to a week ago. I don't know if you'll be able to see it. But I'll read it aloud.

New cases, plus 61.5 percent. This is just within the last week. New deaths, 17.8 percent growth. Hospitalizations, plus 3.2 percent. Vaccines administered, minus 33.4 percent.

Can we yet discern, whether Omicron is more mild, in comparison to the Delta variant?

JHA: Yes, it's a great question. I think two things about those numbers.

First, a lot of it, affected by the holidays, my fear is that those numbers are actually going to get accelerating, get much, much worse, as we pull out of the holidays, and a lot more people start getting tested.

But all of the data so far, whether it's New York, San Francisco, London, South Africa, is pointing to a milder version, of this disease. I don't want people to become complacent. Not mild enough that if you're unvaccinated, and you get infected, you're going to do just fine.

But I think, for vaccinated, particularly boosted people, I do think the evidence suggests that they're not going to get particularly sick.

SMERCONISH: I feel like something has significantly changed, since you and I were together, a couple of days ago. And maybe it's just, my own personal orbit. But I feel like now, many of us, are just a degree, of separation away, from someone, who has tested positive, in a way that we weren't previous.

Am I an outlier? Or is that now more the norm than it's ever been?

JHA: It is definitely the norm. It used to be, I would say, up till about a week ago, I got maybe one or two phone calls, a week, from a friend, or a colleague, someone they knew, but had tested positive. Now, I'm getting five to 10 a day. Everyone I know is getting - is testing positive.

Omicron is spreading really, really rapidly. So, you are not an outlier. This is very much why I think those case numbers are actually kind of underestimating how much infection is out there.

SMERCONISH: In terms of where we're headed, in 2022, might there be a silver lining, insofar, as so many will soon have had it that surely we're getting closer to herd immunity?

JHA: Yes, here's how I think, about what's going to happen, in the upcoming few weeks. I think we're going to see an acceleration of infections, probably for another week or two.

Again, it's hard to predict exactly. My hope is by mid-January, we see a peak. We start coming down. That's the experience of South Africa. We're starting to see that in London, maybe early data.

And what that means is by the time we get to the end of January, into February, yes, we're going to have built up a lot more population immunity. The goal is to try to build up population immunity, through vaccines and boosters, and not through infections. But Omicron is going to make that a real challenge.

SMERCONISH: So, when, in terms of the timeline, is the light at the end of the tunnel? Is it the spring? Is it the summer?


JHA: Oh, I think it's early spring, even late winter. I think January is going to be a really, really hard month.

I think people should just brace themselves, for a month, where lots of people are going to get infected. Unfortunately, a lot of unvaccinated people. A lot of people, who have not gotten a vaccine, are going to end up getting pretty sick. And it's going to be pretty disruptive.

My hope is, as we get into February, and certainly by the time we get into March, infection numbers will come way down. And it'll also start getting spring, and the weather will start getting better, and that'll also help. That combination means, to me, late winter, early spring should be much, much better.

SMERCONISH: Give me practical guidance, on masking. What type of mask, and in what circumstances?

JHA: Yes, so, I wear a mask. Now, I wear a mask, whenever I'm indoors, in public, obviously not at home. But when I don't know other people's vaccine status, I wear a mask.

So, what do I do? I think of masking, kind of in two contexts.

If it's something, like I'm going to pop into a grocery store, for five minutes, and it's not super-crowded, a good surgical mask, one of those blue masks, if they fit reasonably well, is pretty good, and, I think, it's pretty reasonable.

If I'm going to be in a place, for a longer period of time? I was at the Boston Pops holiday concert, for an hour and a half. Everybody was wearing a mask. It was vaccine-only. I wore a high-quality masks.

There are KF94s that are available, N95s. If you're not sure which one to get, there's a great organization called Project N95. You can go to their website, and you can find really high-quality masks.

I get mine from Amazon. These are not super-expensive, but a buck a mask. But there are a lot of good-quality masks out there. And I would urge people to wear a higher-quality mask, anytime they're in a place, with lots of people, and they're going to be indoors, for any extended period of time.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Jha, let's respond to some social media. I'll lean on you, because you're the person, with the expertise.

"If we were infected with COVID recently, before having a chance to get boosted, when is it recommended we get the booster? I hear different answers. Really want to do my part and get boosted, but looking for guidance on when."

Your answer?

JHA: Yes. I say, once you've recovered, it's perfectly safe to get a booster. Obviously, if you want to wait a little bit time, soon after you've recovered, you have a pretty high degree, of antibodies, and you should be OK, to hold off a little bit.

I wouldn't wait any longer than three months. But as soon as you've recovered, it's safe to go ahead, and get that booster shot.

SMERCONISH: One more, Dr. Jha. Here it comes.

"After 10 full days in isolation, I am still rapid antigen (Binax) positive on day 11. Should I continue to isolate and for how long? I have had three times Pfizer."

JHA: Yes, this is a really good question. It's tough. Officially, you're done with isolation. But the fact that you're still testing positive means you may still be contagious.

So, what I would do is, again, you can follow CDC guidelines. But what I would do is, I would wear a mask, when you're around other people, continue testing, it should turn negative, in the next couple of days. But you're really one of the outliers, who can be contagious, for longer than 10 days.

SMERCONISH: A final question. And, this time, I mean it. It's from me, not from social media.

What if you've been exposed to someone, who has now tested positive, and, of course, we face a situation, where it's hard to get tested? What should someone, in that circumstance do?

JHA: Yes, so the CDC just updated its guidance on that, as well. And I actually think it's really good guidance.

It says, if you're fully vaccinated, and boosted, you should - you're different than everybody else. If you're fully vaccinated, and boosted, you do not need to go into quarantine.

If you are not boosted, and you are vaccinated more than six months out, or obviously, if you're unvaccinated, you should go into quarantine, for at least five days. You should then get a negative. You should then get a test, and make sure, you're negative.

But basically, it differentiates boosted people from non-boosted people. The full new guidance is out, on the CDC website. But I would take it pretty seriously, because a lot of people, who have been exposed, are getting, then turning around, and getting infected themselves.

SMERCONISH: It's a lot to comprehend. Thank you so much, for being here, to shed some light on it.

JHA: My pleasure. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Don't forget tonight's survey question.

Which year will history judge worse? Which year will you judge worse? 2020 or 2021?

Go to my website, at Cast a ballot. I'll give you the results, at the end of the hour.

The unvaccinated in America, need more incentives, to get immunized, not incentives to stay unvaxxed. So, why are some GOP governors, carving out exemptions, for the holdouts?

And what does Dr. Zeke Emanuel make of it? He was once, on Joe Biden's COVID advisory team. What is the way forward, and not backward? I'll ask him, next.



SMERCONISH: It was just a few months ago that we saw headlines like this. "Florida had become the 23rd Republican-led state to end pandemic unemployment benefits early." The goal was to incentivize people, to return to work.

Yet with the politics, over vaccine mandates, heating-up, critics, say, some of these states, are now incentivizing people, to quit their jobs.

At least five Republican-led states have extended unemployment benefits, to people, who've lost their jobs, over vaccine mandates. They include Florida, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee. Three more states are considering the idea as well. And this could be just the beginning.

Joining me now is Dr. Zeke Emanuel, former member of then-President- elect Biden's COVID Advisory Board.

Dr. Emanuel, unemployment benefits, usually, are to help someone along, who has lost their job, through no fault of their own. The conventional scenario? They work in a factory. The factory lost a big contract. They're now out of work. They didn't cause it.

With that prism, what do you make of this?


I think this basically says people, who are rejecting the vaccine, mainly because of, they're against vaccinations, are actually not doing social harm. And now, governors are rewarding them. That is a very bad incentive, and just the opposite of what the country needs.

SMERCONISH: What's the real purpose? Do you think, it's to undermine the President's vax mandate, in the name of individual liberty?

EMANUEL: I don't think it's in the name of individual liberty. It's in the name of politics.

No person, who was present, at the founding, of this country, Franklin, Washington, Madison, Hamilton, would endorse this idea of liberty. Liberty always involve the idea that you can do, what you want, as long as you don't impinge on someone else. And that is not what's happening here. [21:20:00]

People, who stay unvaccinated, are impinging on other people. They're propagating the virus. They're going to hospitals that are overloaded, if they happen to get very sick.

This is hardly individual liberty that does not affect the well-being of other people. No Founding Father would recognize this as a legitimate argument for individual liberty.

SMERCONISH: Are you comfortable, I discussed in the first portion of the program, with Dr. Ashish Jha, the CDC changing its guidance, on isolation, from 10 days to five days?

What does Dr. Zeke Emanuel make of that?

EMANUEL: Well, I am not - Ashish Jha was a little more comfortable with it than I am. I think it has the advantage of being clear, mostly. I don't think it is accurate.

First of all, most cases, yes, you're not going to be infectious after five days. But with Omicron, we don't need many cases, to begin spreading a lot. That's the first thing.

The second, it does rely on people wearing, very high-quality, N95, or KN95 masks, constantly, after the five days, or up for another five days. And we know that's just not been happening very conscientiously, in the United States.

And finally, there's no test. I mean, if we had a reliable - you could get a PCR test, you could get the results back in eight to 10 hours, at day five, and you knew you were negative, I would feel more confident with that advice.

But the testing problem here means that you're going to make a decision, "I'm done with isolation after five days" without knowing your test status. That's not a good place to be, in my humble opinion.

SMERCONISH: And I also worry, I'll just piggyback on that, and I worry that these are guidance, for people, who are probably wanting to do the right thing. There's an entire portion of society that we're not reaching already. And now, it just seems, as if it's getting a wee bit more complicated.

EMANUEL: Oh, I agree with you. There are many people who, you know, don't like to wear masks.

They have their masks below their nose. They don't have very good masks. They're still using cloth masks. And it's going to legitimate them, "Five days and I'm done." The mask part, they're not going to really pay attention to. Yes, I'm very nervous about that.

I understand the rationale. Most people aren't going to be infectious, given the short incubation time of Omicron. We need a lot of people back at work. We can't have 10 percent of the health care workforce, not working. We can't have all these airline employees not working. But, safety first. If we're going to have events, where someone, who was positive, comes back to work, after five days, and spreads Omicron, that's not going to be very helpful.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Emanuel, quick final question. What's your level of optimism, as we look toward 2022, on this issue?

EMANUEL: Well, I think the optimistic scenario, is that we will have a very bad January and February.

Remember, the deaths are a lagging indicator. We're going to be going up for two to three more weeks, pretty reliably. Hospitalizations are going to go up, and deaths are going to go up. That is going to come down. The case load is going to come down.

But the deaths will peak probably towards the end of January, early February. And we won't get low, for four or five or six weeks, after that. I think we might then get to a point, where we have continued decline. Maybe end of May, early June, we might see more normalcy.

I think a lot is going to depend upon, whether there's a virus that can arise that can outcompete Omicron. And that, we don't know. If it outcompetes it, we could be in for another really, really bad year. And I think that's the pessimistic scenario.

The optimistic scenario is Omicron's the worst we've got, and we're able to overcome it. Lots of people get vaccinated. And normalcy returns, May, June.

The pessimistic scenario is something outcompetes Omicron, because it can evade the immune system. And then, we're in real trouble.

SMERCONISH: I hope the glass is half-full.

Help me respond to one social media. I'll put it up, and read it to you, because I don't think you can see it.

"End mandates," says Stuart. "Let Insurance Companies deny all COVID- related claims for unvaxxed patients."

Dr. Zeke Emanuel says what?

EMANUEL: Well look, I'm a doctor. We do not do that. We don't.

We treat people, and we treat people, regardless of their situation, you know? And so, we don't differentiate it, whether you're vaccinated or unvaccinated. We may regret the fact that you're unvaccinated. But we still treat you. We give you the best care we can.


Insurance companies are a different thing. But I don't think that is the way we should penalize people. We should do the best for them. And that is push the mandates.

I do think Tony Fauci's hint that we should have it for travel, I've been calling for that, since July and August. I think there are many other situations, in which we can get people vaccinated.

The vast majority of those people, who haven't been vaccinated, they're really sitting on the fence, and they just need some encouragement. And a mandate is a form of encouragement for them.

SMERCONISH: Well, I'm about to deal with the airline scenario, next. So thank you for saying that.

Nice to have you back, Dr. Emanuel. Appreciate it.

EMANUEL: Thank you, Michael. You're doing a great job.

SMERCONISH: To Zeke's point, not that point, but to his prior point, would a mandate, for the unvaxxed, on domestic flights, change the course of the virus?

What does a leading voice, for flight attendants, in America think? I'll ask Sara Nelson, about that. And this new CDC guidance that recommends shorter quarantines, for some Americans. She's next.


SMERCONISH: It's one of the busiest travel days of the year. Yet, airlines are canceling flights, left and right, in part, due to the Omicron surge.

As I reported earlier, Dr. Fauci seems to be walking back, his own belief that airlines should seriously consider vaccine mandates, for passengers, sooner than later.


Meanwhile, tonight, the nation's largest flight attendants' union is criticizing the new CDC guidance, on quarantining. Let's get some perspective from Sara Nelson, the International President of that Association.

Sara, thank you for coming back. I have your statement in front of me. You're pretty hot about this. Rather than read it aloud, tell everybody why.


So, this seem to be pushed, by the airlines, who were asking, for a reduction in the quarantine time, because of staffing shortages.

The biggest concern about that is we're not going to pretend like we're the medical experts here, like, we know how many days are the right number of days. I'm not even going to try to say that.

But what we said is that we want to hear from the medical professionals, about what's right, rather than having the thrust here, be about trying to staff flights.

And what the airlines are then saying is that that is their focus, which concerns us very much, because what CDC said was, they were going to reduce, from 10 days to five days, but only for asymptomatic people. And if you wear a mask consistently, and the right kind of mask, for five days, following.

So, we want to know that the airlines are then, and the rest of Corporate America, is focused on public health, and safety, and make sure that they have very supportive policies that help workers understand that they have the right not to have to come back, to work, if the airline's calling them.

Delta Airlines announced right away, after the CDC guidance, they didn't herald any kind of public health measure. What they said was this is going to give Delta more flexibility, to schedule crews.

And we're really concerned that's going to put workers, in a bad position, of choosing whether to stay home, and be safe, and take good measures, for public health, or be forced to come to work, and feel like they're going to lose their job, if they don't.

SMERCONISH: I can't help but think, having spoken to Dr. Ashish Jha, and then Dr. Zeke Emanuel, both of whom commented on this, that if there were more tests available, a requirement would have been that at the end of those five days, you need a test, before you can end isolation.

I don't know if you heard either of them say that? Or if you have a reaction to that observation?

NELSON: I did. And we certainly believe that would be a good idea. The U.K. reduced the number of quarantine days to seven. But only after two negative tests.

We have a testing problem in this country, obviously. And that's part of the logistical problems that make this so difficult.

But that would be the better thing to do, because why would we be saying that it's OK, to have symptomatic people, come back, and possibly still be infectious, and possibly continue this pandemic that is the root cause of the whole thing?

We've got to get through this pandemic fatigue, and make good decisions about how to end it, not add to it.

SMERCONISH: Sara, I don't know that you could know the answer to my next observation.

But, as I'm watching television, and these terrible stories, about flights being canceled, during a holiday weekend, people being stranded, not seeing loved ones, all I can wonder is whether sick passengers, in fact, I'll say it more specifically, unvaccinated passengers, are getting crews sick?

Do you have any reaction to that, anecdotal or otherwise?

NELSON: Well, look, of course, that's happening, because infections have happened, at the same rate, as in our community. So, it's not as if the controlled environment, on the airlines, make it any better.

What we have done is control the environment, to make sure that it's not any worse traveling, than going to do any other indoor activities. But of course, sick people are traveling, and getting crews infected. And those crews are then taking it home, to their families.

More likely crews are vaccinated, at least with the first and second dose, maybe not boosted yet. But this is still - this is still a stress and strain, on them, and their families. And it's some of the reasons that people are a little concerned, about picking up that overtime, overtime hours, in order to make the operation work.

Air travel is subject to severe weather too.


NELSON: And there's been a lot at play here. But it's really made it very difficult, for workers, to come to work, and feel safe.

SMERCONISH: So, just to button this up, doesn't it mean that Dr. Fauci was closer, in the morning, than he was in the evening, here on CNN, to where we need to go, which is, if you want to fly, you got to be vaccinated?

NELSON: Let me tell you this, Michael. It has been really difficult, because we have not tracked vaccinations in this country. So, it would be a hard logistical thing, to implement. And we don't want to have it solely rest on the airlines, or the frontline workers, to make it work.

But I am more committed than ever, to work with this government, to find the logistical means, in order to put that in place, because this is a safety issue, in our workplace.

And these conditions now with CDC resting solely on the advocacy from airlines, to try to address the staffing issues, as opposed to the public health issues, make it more important than ever, that we try to mandate vaccines, wherever we can, so that people can have that incentive, to get vaccinated, and we can all be safe.

SMERCONISH: In other words, you worry that the policing responsibility, would fall to your members, and that you don't think is fair?

NELSON: That is not fair. That's not right. And it would be a problem for airlines as well. There is not a way to track that right now. This is not something that could be implemented tomorrow, and actually work, and make air travel more seamless.


But what we do know, is that the demand came back. When people started getting vaccinated, and when those mask policies, were in place, people had confidence in that. Those safety measures directly relate to our economic security. So, we know that mandating vaccines, getting vaccines out, to more people, is going to make our workspace more safe, is going to allow us, to get through this pandemic, connect with the rest of the world, and experience the freedoms that we had, before this pandemic. So, we would be focused, in every way--


NELSON: --to work through those logistics, and make it work, Michael, because it's a good public health safety initiative.

SMERCONISH: Well, I mean, I think it'd be a great way to light a fire, under the folks' fannies, who have not gotten vaccinated. "You want to go get on that plane? Then this is what it's going to take."

Sara, thank you so much. I appreciate your thoughts.

NELSON: Thank you, Michael. Have a good night. Happy holidays.


You too.

Did you go back to the office this year? Are you still able to work from there? Do you even want to go back? This latest COVID surge only adds to the questions about what the business world will look like, in the New Year.

Marketing professor, I'll add, guru, and author, Scott Galloway, is looking at the big picture, and why this is about more than just debate, on working from home. He's next.


SMERCONISH: The Omicron surge isn't just changing the way that we travel. It's also affecting the way we work.


Many companies, planning to shift away, from remote-working, and hoping to reopen in 2022, they're now rethinking those plans. My next guest says that could lead to some long-term unexpected consequences, impacting everything, from housing prices, to romantic relationships.

Scott Galloway, is a professor of marketing, at the NYU Stern School of Business. He's also the Author of "Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity." And soon, you'll see him, hosting his own program, on our streaming network, CNN+, which debuts next year.

Scott, I read the book. You and I spoke about the book. And the takeaway, as I recall, among many, was, you said to me, "Crisis, like COVID, it speeds up trends that were already there, but now exponentially, so."

So, what trends are you looking at that you think will be sped up by COVID? SCOTT GALLOWAY, CNN+ HOST, PROFESSOR OF MARKETING, NYU STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS, AUTHOR, "POST CORONA": Well, you're talking about remote work. Pre-pandemic, about 20 percent, 25 percent of people, worked from home. Now, it's 75 percent.

And if you think about a real unlock, and there's an opportunity here, every day, we go on, working from home, we get better at it. We get better at renting our human capital to organizations. And you start from a place of strength.

Think about this. Think about the amount of time, it takes to get ready, get to transportation. Get into the office. You can spend 10 minutes after you get into your office, just to get to your desk. If it's an hour each way of time, you're talking about 12 weeks of time that you have to sort of redistribute.

You're also talking about $20,000 to $30,000, a corporation spend per person, to bring you to this amalgam of steel, glass and asbestos. So, there could be just an extraordinary unlock.

And we've been going - we've been in this pandemic now. We're coming up on two years. Lost 800,000 people. World War II was three and a half years. We lost about 400,000 people. To think that this is just a shock is not true. This is a structural shift. We are changing the way we interact with the professional world.

SMERCONISH: That doesn't bode well for the commercial real estate market, does it?

GALLOWAY: Oh, gosh, Michael, if you want to get a group of people, in denial together, for dinner? Invite over owners, of commercial real estate.

You're talking about - and this is - this is an unbelievable shift in our economy. The asset class, known as commercial real estate office buildings, is somewhere between $6 trillion and $12 trillion, in North America.

And if people do what Apple is suggesting, and come back three days a week? Most will be hybrid. We're going to go back to the office, just not as much. You're talking about a 40 percent gross destruction in demand, or you're talking about the GDP of Germany, leaking from one asset class, to another, specifically residential.

So, what are you seeing? You're seeing 18 percent to 25 percent vacancy rates, across the major cities. San Francisco registered its lowest, and its highest vacancy rates, of commercial real estate, in 2020.

And all of that capital is pouring into residential, where we're seeing double-digit price increases, in a low interest rate environment, where we've ever seen. And some, it is terrible to own an office building. And it's about to get worse. And it's a great time to be in the homebuilding business.

SMERCONISH: How about education? Two under my roof, one undergrad, one grad school, not going back on time, this January.

GALLOWAY: Yes, effectively, what we have is, at NYU, and Harvard, we have $60,000 and $65,000, streaming networks, at this point. And if you think about whether it's Tide Pods, or Porsche and/or Cayenne (ph), manufacturers have innovated around format.

At colleges, we still have the traditional four-year degree that you have to come through the operating system of a campus, and an admissions department that is increasingly rejectionist. And I think people are pushing back. And we're beginning to unbundle the certification.

Whether it's Google, training 100,000 people, without a college degree, to do things in high-demand professions, whether it's vocational training, which I think we're finally starting to take seriously, you are going to see the most disruptable product in history.

And that is Higher Ed that, has raised its prices, faster than healthcare, and yet has not innovated. The fists of stone of COVID are coming for that shin. A $750 billion industry is about to be disrupted. And that disruption is overdue.

SMERCONISH: Tells me that NYU and Harvard will survive. But there'll be others that will fall by the wayside.


SMERCONISH: So, by the way, if you're not going to find love, in the classroom, or in the workplace, I mean, what will be the impact on relationships?

GALLOWAY: That's the correct question, Michael. And that's really the second order effect that we're not thinking about, from a societal standpoint.

One in three relationships begin at work. And when you no longer have that venue, what we've seen is it used to be 20 percent of relationships began online. Now, it's 40 percent, heading to 50 percent.

And the Gini coefficient, or essentially, mating inequality, is greater online than income inequality in U.S. And what do we mean by that?


A small fraction of the people, on these dating sites, get a disproportionate amount, of the interest, which leads to a society that's going to have household formation later. Fewer marriages, more frustrated, especially men, where over the next five years, you're only going to see half as many men graduate from college.

And that has real societal implications, because the most dangerous person in the world, is a broke young and alone young man. And we are producing way too many of them. And we're going to have to think about what does it mean to have Big Tech come in, to kind of this last corner, of our lives? And that is how we form and maintain relationships.

SMERCONISH: It's a scary thought!

Scott Galloway, thank you so much, for being here, nonetheless.

GALLOWAY: Thank you, Michael. You've doubled the amount of time I spend with my boys. We watch Premier League Soccer, and Michael Smerconish, at 9.

SMERCONISH: What - and no succession? What, are you kidding me?

GALLOWAY: That's just - that's just their folks. But yes, thank you. You've done a great job. It's been a pleasure to watch you.

SMERCONISH: Nice to see you. Thank you.

The Pandemic, causing many of us to ignore, another major health crises. Addiction. A remarkable story, in the "San Francisco Chronicle," follows one mother's journey, walking away from her own life, to try and save her daughter, from Fentanyl.

That mom, Laurie Steves, is here tonight. You'll want to listen to her story, and plead, because other families, in this country, are facing the same battle, or could be, in the future. And she's next.


SMERCONISH: Tonight, I want to shed more light on a crisis that needs the same kind of all-hands-on-deck response that COVID has received.

Because, for people, age 18 to 45, the leading cause of death isn't COVID, car accidents, or even suicide. It's Fentanyl overdoses. The synthetic opioid is cheaper, easier to obtain, and up to 50 times stronger than heroin.

More than 92,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, in 2020, eclipsing the toll from any year, since the opioid epidemic began, in the 1990s. Among the city's hardest hit, San Francisco, where the drug has found, fertile ground, among the thousands of homeless, who are there.

The chief medical examiner reports, the city lost 516 people, to Fentanyl overdose, in 2020, more than double the number killed by COVID that year. And this year is on track to see similar numbers, if not worse, prompting the Mayor to declare a state of emergency.

My next guest is a mother trying to save her daughter from this fate. The "San Francisco Chronicle" followed her months' long quest, and how it took her from her home, in the Seattle area, to the streets, of the infamous Tenderloin district, in search of her 34-year-old daughter, Jessica.

Laurie Steves joins me now.

Laurie, what caused you to go, in search of your daughter, in San Francisco?

LAURIE STEVES, LOST SON TO DRUG OVERDOSE; DAUGHTER ADDICTED TO FENTANYL: Oh, I had wanted to search for her, for a while. But I had no idea where she was, for about nine years.


I lost her younger brother, to a Fentanyl overdose, last December. And that really prompted me, to start searching again, for her.

SMERCONISH: I've read the "Chronicle" story. So, I know the answer to these questions. But I want you to tell an international audience. How did you finally find her?

STEVES: Well, a friend did some computer searching that involved, I believe, Geocaching photographs. I may have the wording wrong. I'm not sure.

But some high-tech stuff, she did on the computer, and was able to locate an intersection, in the Tenderloin, where Jessica was apparently known to frequent. Several pictures had been taken over there. So, armed with that--

SMERCONISH: When you finally got together, you shared - you shared a meal. She did drugs, three times, in your presence. It had to be heartbreaking.

STEVES: Extremely heartbreaking. It was something, I never thought I would see.

SMERCONISH: For three and a half months, you relocated, even worked, as a chef, in San Francisco, just trying to keep yourself afloat, and reach her. How close do you think, you came, to bringing her back, and spending more time with you?

STEVES: I thought I was close once, Michael. There was one particular day, where she agreed to drug - to medication treatment, for her addiction, to Fentanyl. It didn't last.

Jessica goes from - bounces from one situation to another, rather quickly, one thought to another, rather quickly. And it was a fleeting moment. I pushed for it to happen again. And I will continue to push for it to happen again. I will continue to--

SMERCONISH: What do you?

STEVES: --initiate conversations with her.

SMERCONISH: What do you think, of the San Francisco response, to your daughter, and others, who are like her?

STEVES: Up until just recently, I heard there's been a bigger response, in the last several weeks. However, the response has been to house the addicts, not treat the addicts. Addiction isn't being treated as the illness that it is. Mental health is not being treated. There are - the streets are just flooded, flooded with addicted, mentally-ill people, in the Tenderloin, as well as flooded with open- air drug dealing. Dealers, in broad daylight, on street corners, just dealing right out in the open. It's an epidemic there. It really is.

SMERCONISH: You have lots of company.

STEVES: Cousin--

SMERCONISH: A lot of parents - a lot of parents are facing the same challenges that you're facing. What is it that you say to them, or to someone, who's watching you, and fears, a son or daughter is headed in this same direction?

STEVES: Keep fighting for them. Keep fighting for them. Speak up - speak--

SMERCONISH: I think we lost - we lost - did we lose Laurie?

Listen, the "San Francisco Chronicle" did a hell of a job, in chronicling.

Lila (ph), do you have more of the photographs? Can you just show some of the photographs that ran in the "Chronicle?"

Because the "Chronicle" published photographs that she took, of her daughter, and of the horror scene that she found, when she went to the Tenderloin district, in San Francisco, and tried to rescue her.

As I said, with her last possessions, and last dime, she leaves her house, in Washington State, goes to San Francisco. Doesn't know if she'll even find her. And then, with a lot of assistance, on the ground, she finds her, spends time with her. Tries to bring her back, from a very dark side. Can't do it.

Imagine then, when she has to go home, near Seattle, to leave that city, leaving San Francisco, having just spent that time with her daughter, and knowing that she hasn't been successful? Well she hasn't given up, is the point. She hasn't given up is the point.

To be continued, because I'd love to return to that story.

All right, we'll come back, in a moment. And we'll do the results of tonight's survey question, and a little bit more social media.



SMERCONISH: Just a quick note, if I may?

The mom that we just lost the feed, Laurie Steves, when I said that I read about her, in the "San Francisco Chronicle," I should also have given recognition to Heather Knight, because she wrote the piece, about that mom's search, for her daughter. I'm going to put it in my Twitter account, as soon as this show ends, and make it very easy, for everybody to access it, because it's really a worthy read.

OK. Results now, from the survey question tonight.

Which year will history judge worse? 2020 or 2021?

Nearly 10,000 voted. 64 percent said 2020. Interesting. 36 percent said 2021. If I had the option of calling it a draw, I would have.

Here's more social media reaction that came in, during the course of tonight's program.

"2020 because the pandemic was new, shocking, and the numbers became part of our daily lives."

I don't know. I'm looking at 2020, and I'm saying, well at least we had two and a half decent months, before everything hit the fan, unlike 2021 was just non-stop constant chaos.

One more social media reaction, if I have time, and I think that I do.

"I changed my vote from 2020 to 2021. I can't see a darker day in our history than January 6."

Jeez! Susan, I wasn't even thinking of January 6. But if you throw January 6, into the mix, I was really only thinking of COVID, then I guess that's the tiebreaker.

Well, thank you so much for watching. I'll be back here, one more night, tomorrow night.

Don Lemon begins, in just a moment, with my friend, Laura Coates, sitting in.

Take it away, Laura.