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The Virus Knows No Boundaries; Customers May Choose to Stay Home; Interview with Bestselling Author James Patterson; Children's Mental Health In Crisis, Made Worse By Pandemic. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired November 27, 2021 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: The virus knows no boundaries. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.

A new coronavirus variant is raising alarms around the globe causing sharp financial market decline and spurring new travel restrictions aimed at countries in the Southern African region after South African scientists said it was linked to an exponential rise in cases in their own country.

So far, the new strain dubbed Omicron by the World Health Organization has also been located in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong. On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average had its worst day in over a year tumbling more than 900 points over fears that the new variant could derail the global economic recovery.

A growing list of nations including the United States, the European Union and Japan have stopped or restricted flights from the South African region in, and effort to control Omicron's the spread.

Just last night, 61 travelers arriving from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19 upon landing in the Netherlands. The Dutch health authorities said those positive test results would be examined as soon as possible to determine whether they're infected with this new variant.

This latest outbreak, a reminder that no matter what the vaccination rate might be in the developed world, the pandemic is a global issue. That won't be behind us until immunity by vaccination or natural means is worldwide. So, where do we stand in that score?

Currently developed countries like China, Japan, France, Italy, South Korea and Canada have fully immunized more than three quarters of their populations.

In the United States, that number is currently 59 percent. According to "Bloomberg," 110 of the 200 countries for which they have data are shy of 50 percent of their populations having full immunization. Of that number, 64 countries including South Africa have not even reached 25 percent. India is only at 31 percent. Russia, just 37 percent. Fully immunized. And of the 37 nations. With less than 10 percent fully protected, 32 are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Where slightly more than half the world population has at least one dose, it means that nearly 3.4 billion people have had no vaccination and our most vulnerable to infection and spread.

It's all a reminder of Tom Friedman once having told us that the world is indeed flat and until the developed world inoculates its own and extends itself to protecting the rest of the planet, this is our future. Which brings me to today's survey question.

This will require a little bit of background. While federal law requires all domestic travelers to wear face masks during their entire flight and the CDC recommends you delay travel if you're not vaccinated. There are currently no vaccine or test requirements in order to fly domestically in the United States. International travel requirements coming into the U.S. depend on where you're from and your vaccination status.

So, here's today's survey from I want to know if you agree or disagree with this statement. "Unless you are vaccinated or recently tested, you should not be permitted to fly anywhere. Agree or disagree? Go vote now.

Joining me to discuss is Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease and critical care physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. And Lily Caprani, head of Advocacy for Health and Vaccines at UNICEF.

Dr. Adalja, let me begin with you. Does this ever end?

DR. AMESH ADALJA, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: No, if we are looking for a time when there is no COVID risk because this an officially spreading respiratory virus. It has established itself in the human population. It is going to become endemic. It is not something that can be contained. The goal is just to tame it. To make it more like other respiratory viruses. But we're always going to have COVID around. Hopefully in a much less threatening manner as we get more people immunized.

SMERCONISH: And doctor, wouldn't you think from our past experience that we're fooling ourselves if we think that Omicron is not already in the United States?

ADALJA: Yes, I do think that Omicron is likely in the United States. We know that that case in Belgium did not have any contact with anybody from the Southern African nations where we've seen it. So that tells you that it is spreading in other parts of the world. We don't sequence every case. And usually, it's just a sampling that we see.

So, it's like something that is here at a low level. Delta still continues to be the predominant variant. But I would not be surprised at all to see that Omicron is already here and possibly spreading in small clusters.

SMERCONISH: And I promise I'll get to Lily in one second.


But one more follow-up for you. It can get here by having been brought here or through a natural progression and outbreak of its own, right? ADALJA: Likely this is something that evolved probably in one of those South African countries just because they prevalence is so high. But it's not something that is easy for the virus to do.

If you look at the mutations and you look at where it fits kind of on the family tree of COVID-19 viruses, this is something that descends from something probably in mid-2020. That might have been in an immunosuppressed population that was spreading or in a person. And then, developed all those mutations and then jumped back into human - into other humans and spread.

So, I don't think this is something that occurs spontaneously in other parts of the country. I think after parts of the world. I think this is something that specifically happened where it happened. And it's an uncommon type of mutations that occur, but something that will spread if it actually is more transmissible as what the suggestion is from South Africa.

SMERCONISH: Lily Caprani, something tells me you are the least surprised of this new development. Am I right?

LILY CAPRANI, HEAD OF ADVOCACY FOR HEALTH AND VACCINES, UNICEF: Well, this is what viruses do. If they are allowed to keep circulating, they mutate in a whole new variant. We've seen that happening throughout the last year. We've been warning and warning and warning that nobody gets out of this until we get everyone protected around the world. And sadly, often enough, it's come true.

I mean, we were expecting this. And in some ways, there's plenty we can do to keep ourselves safe by just following the usual social distancing rules, hand hygiene and so on. But what we really need now is, is to let the science do what it's been able to do. Provide the solutions for us and solve the kind of political problems, stopping us getting test treatments and vaccines all around the world. So that we can curb this virus in every part of the world.

We're never going to end the global pandemic one country at a time. We're going to have to get much better at global cooperation to solve this.

SMERCONISH: Well, I said at the outset, in fact, I think my first words today were, the virus doesn't respect boundaries. So, what then is the responsibility on the developed world to make sure, as you say, that we're doing our share for the underdeveloped world?

CAPRANI: And for ourselves. I mean, you know, my family, your family, they're not safe until we get everyone around the world equal access to vaccination and all of the other protections. It's in our own interest, as well as the right thing to do.

And the good news is, you know, this time last year, we were all sitting here hoping for a vaccine. And science did what it does. It comes up with solutions that are available. And now the world has billions of vaccines this short time later.

The problem what we haven't solved is to equally distribute them. We've still got most people in Africa have never been offered their first shot yet. They're dangerously unprotected. So not only does that leave us all exposed to more variants because the virus is just spreading around. But it puts them at huge risk of all of the other effects, you see from this pandemic. Like health systems being put under strain. Kids missing school. You know basic health care, normal childhood vaccine programs getting by the wayside.

The consequences for low and middle-income countries are really enormous. High-income countries have got enough vaccines to keep looking after their own populations. And to donate them and share them around the world much faster than they're doing right now. So, there's a solution in our hands.

We just cannot afford to wait any longer to deliver that solution. And make sure that people in Africa, people in other low and middle-income countries are also getting a chance to get protected like those of us in rich countries already have.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Adalja, when will we know whether the vaccines that we currently have are effective against this new variant?

ADALJA: If you listen to what the companies are saying, it's probably a process that's going to take about two weeks to do those experiments. And it's important to remember that there's a couple of different things that they're going to be looking for.

First, they're going to try and understand does the vaccine protect against infection? Are breakthrough infections more common with this variant based on the studies that they do in the lab, as well as clinical and epidemiological studies of who's getting infected. Then, they're going to want to answer this question which I think is more important. Does the vaccine prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death with this variant?

And I suspect because of the antibodies, because of the T-cells that that is likely going to be the case. That even if breakthrough infections become more common with Omicron like they were with the beta and gamma variants which we don't hear about so much anymore. The vaccines are still really good at doing what matters, keeping people out of a hospital. So I think that is going to be the likely trajectory but it's going to take a couple of weeks before they get all of that data to be able to say it definitively.

SMERCONISH: And Lily Caprani, do we really know the extent to which the virus has spread, in say, the African continent. If so, few have been inoculated. Logic tells me very few have also been tested. At least in comparison to the more developed world.


So, might we be shocked at some point in the future when we find out just how many people already have the virus?

CAPRANI: I think that's right. There's definitely underreporting. And we expect that the official death toll is kind of the tip of the iceberg of really what's going on. It's another reminder to us that this isn't just about vaccines.

I mean, it's important, absolutely. It's the clearest pathway out of the pandemic to get everyone vaccinated. But at the same time, these countries also need equal access to testing, to other kinds of treatment, to protective equipment. And all of those things that help us stop exposure to the virus like handwashing facilities and infection control.

All of those things can play a really important part. And all of them are not equally available right now. That's not to say the world doesn't have enough supplies, because it does. But they're very unevenly distributed. And that's the problem we need to solve. Through --

SMERCONISH: Dr. Adalja -- agreed. Dr. Adalja, quick final comment from you on this new development.

ADALJA: This is what we're going to see happen when you have populations in the world that are not vaccinated. I don't think it's an accident that this happened in a part of the world where less than a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated. So as long as this virus has the opportunity to infect people, it's going to generate new variants. And some of those variants are going to be dangerous.

So, I think, we really have to double down on getting first and second doses into people. We talk a lot about boosters in this country. But remember, it's first and second doses that change the trajectory of this pandemic.

SMERCONISH: Right. But we're struggling here at home. And you know we're trying now to move on and take care of the rest of the planet but we're still at only 59 percent fully inoculated in the United States.

Anyway, thank you both. That was excellent and I appreciate your contribution.

ADALJA: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I'll read some throughout the course of the program.

From - what do we have? YouTube.

"I agree with the requirement. However, can you imagine the TSA --"

OK. So, Joseph is responding to me saying, shouldn't there be a requirement for anybody getting on an airplane anywhere, that they're vaccinated, or have just been tested?

Now, put it back up on the screen, so I have some context to respond to this.

He says, "I agree with the requirement," meaning my hypothetical requirement. "However, can you imagine the TSA and security issues if this is put in place?" Well, I get your - I get your concern that this would be such a stumbling block. But, really, can't we upload the information in the same way that many of us do with the TSA or global entry precheck. So that by the time you walk up to the TSA agent, they already know this is an individual -- it shouldn't be incumbent on TSA. I don't think that it should be incumbent on TSA to sit there now and look at your card and look at your license. But surely, with the technology that we have, a process can be established so that they know this person coming through security has been vaxed or tested.

Continue to go to my website at this hour. I want to know what you think. Here's the statement. This is the affirmative statement. "Unless you're vaccinated or recently tested, you should not be permitted to fly anywhere. Agree or disagree?" Can't wait to see result of that.

Up ahead, the pandemic is wreaking havoc on the mental health among the young. Emergency rooms are seeing a sharp increase in child and adolescent visits for such issues. What can be done to help them? We'll get to that.

Plus, will the recent disturbing trend of flash mobs, smash-and-grab robberies of high-end retailers caused holiday shoppers to just decide I'm going to stay home this year.



SMERCONISH: It's beginning to look a lot like smash-and-grab season. Many of American's high-end retailers have been targeted by coordinated group burglaries. Could this scare consumers off from in- person holiday shopping this season?

In just the past week, a mob of 80 people stormed a Nordstrom department store in suburban San Francisco parking dozens of cars in front and stealing more than $100,000 of merchandise in only a minute's time.

Two other California Nordstroms were hit. This time in the Los Angeles area by thieves making off with thousands of dollars in goods. Back in the Bay Areas, the Apple store in Santa Rosa was robbed in broad daylight by four teenage male suspects who grabbed over $20,000 worth of products and fled.

At a mall in Hayward, California, a group of thieves wielding hammers smashed cases at a mall jewelry store. Grabbed items and fled.

And it's not just California. Last week, 14 people barged into a suburban Chicago Louis Vuitton store and made off with more than $100,000 in merchandise. One Los Angeles consumer voiced what is likely a common fear.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very disturbing because now I'm reluctant to come to Nordstrom's or even the mall for that matter to come and make my purchases.


SMERCONISH: Joining me now is Burt Flickinger. He's managing director Strategic Resource Group that's a global retail consulting firm. Burt, what do you think? Are folks going to stay home this year because of these reports?

BURT FLICKINGER, MANAGING DIRECTOR, STRATEGIC RESOURCE GROUP: Michael, about one quarter of consumers we've seen in the last week east to west, north to south, one out of every four concerned probably not going to the mall because of crime. One half to your good prior report, not going to the malls because of pandemic. And the other one quarter not going to the mall because they've bought early or more likely put off by the price gouging that's pervasive during this holiday season.

SMERCONISH: And the brick-and-mortar stores because of the pandemic were already struggling, right? I mean, I'm here in Philadelphia and I drive throughout Center City every week. And I see so many that were already boarded up for whatever reason.


FLICKINGER: Michael, you know your detail retail well. And as your team reported well earlier this week, Nordstrom's stock dropped 30 percent in a day. In the prior quarter, dropped 20 percent in a day. Because when you lose sales for every $300 that's stolen from a Nordstrom's or anywhere else, only about $3 of that $300 of merchandise is recovered. So, Nordstrom operating on one cent on every dollar of sales profit. Nordstrom has to sell $300,000 worth of product, Michael, to make up for every $300 worth of theft.

SMERCONISH: Here's some of the shoplifting data. I'll put a slide up that shows the pre-pandemic rate of 0.70 to 1 percent. Versus 2020. 1 percent. 2021, 1.7 percent. And I see, you know, it's a 0.7 percent increase but because of economies of scale, that's a lot of money.

And then, here's holiday shoplifting, 2021 as a percentage of sales if we go to the West Coast. In the past month, 2 to 3 percent in California, approaching 5 percent. And maybe that data belies my next question, Burt. But it's this.

I remember the summer of the shark. I think it was 2001 when there was report after report of a shark attack. And then, a year later, when nobody cared, it turned out that the incidents of shark attacks that actually declined.

I also remember a couple of years ago, fear of people dying in the Dominican Republic that in the end wasn't attributed to their mini bars or whatever else we speculated.

I know this crime is real. I see the film footage. But is there a risk of it being overinflated including by the media and people didn't get fearful when they home when in fact, frankly, they don't have a risk? FLICKINGER: Michael, the biggest risk is future commercial development because South Central Los Angeles, south side, west side of Chicago, east side of Detroit, east side of Buffalo, et cetera, East Harlem, all significantly understored. And if reports of flash and grab crime is pervasive, or any other kind of crime, the developers who need to invest do not invest.

That said, Corinna Lamb, your great producer, discussed the strategic solution which is the late great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Congressman Jack Kemp on a bipartisan basis creating economic empowerment zones in the inner city to build shopping malls, build shopping centers, have full-service post office, police substations, create jobs not just for retail but to lead into management. And ultimately you have an economic requiem and renaissance in the inner city that checkmates crime, that gates crime, and creates economic opportunity.

And the great spending like the late great Jack Fetterman did with Reverend Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church on Pathmark number 609 one of the highest value, most profitable stores in America.

And then the DOJ and SEC and FTC were asleep at the switch when vulture capital companies came in and bankrupted Pathmark. In my professional view, stole the money so we need good old government oversight. And we need the economic empowerment zones. And that can mitigate and ultimately checkmate crime. But the reports of crime are concerning to people who will and can invest with the unions, the UFCW, the teamsters, the bakers, et cetera. Especially in the inner city where they're low and no store selling food other than dollar stores.

SMERCONISH: Right. And I appreciate the shoutout to Jack Kemp. He was the late great Jack Kemp was once my boss.

I guess I'm just saying that we got to cover these stories. And the film footage is like catnip. But I don't want to scare people to death and have then them not go out and support their local brick-and-mortar stores especially on a day like today. I think today is small business Saturday or some such things. So, my pitch is everything in balance. Everything in balance.

Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate your time and expertise.

FLICKINGER: Michael, you're right. Final comment, everything in balance and 56 percent more shoppers will support local businesses and family-owned and operated businesses today on small business Saturday.


FLICKINGER: And that's the answer you were looking for too, sir.

SMERCONISH: Yes. Amen. Thank you.

FLICKINGER: Thank you. SMERCONISH: All right. Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. Catherine, what do we have? From the world of Twitter, I think.

"Maybe we can get law enforcement to focus on actual crime rather than pulling people over for broken taillights."

Oh, my God, Michael, I can speak on that for a half hour. I have to say, I think that this Prop 47 in California has to be a factor somewhere.


That, from you know $0 to $949 if you steal it, it's a misdemeanor. And only at $950 does it become a felony. I see the people running out of those stores in that film footage. I don't know, maybe I'm being naive. Are they mindful of staying under the $950 limit so that they only get tagged with a misdemeanor?

Yes, law enforcement needs to make an example of some of those who we catch. But let us not think that in every one of our - especially today, that in every one of our main streets, like oh, my God, I'd like to go out and support the local store but I'm watching all of this stuff on TV. Go support the local store.

Up ahead. The world's bestselling author -- did I just say that -- yes, the world's bestselling author. James Patterson is here. The man has written thrillers, true crime books, romance, novels, teen dramas. What is his secret?

And I want to know what you think. Make sure you're going to Here's the affirmative statement. Agree or Disagree? "Unless you are vaccinated or recently tested, you should not be permitted to fly anywhere."



SMERCONISH: He is the world's best-selling author. That's the title you get when you sell more than 400 million books worldwide. And he's able to turn them out with production that Henry Ford would have admired.

This year, 11 new Patterson books will hit the shelves. His latest is called "Fear No Evil." It is the 29th installment of his detective Alex Cross franchise.

James Patterson has twice co-authored books with former President Bill Clinton. And next year will co-author with Dolly Parton. He joins me now.

Thank you so much for being here. How important is that first -- how important --

JAMES PATTERSON, BESTSELLING AUTHOR: Well, it's great to be here. I usually watch, but it's better to be on.

SMERCONISH: Listen, you're good for my demographics. OK? Among best- selling 400 million plus authors I'm number one, 25-54. Here's the question --

PATTERSON: All right. Perfect.

SMERCONISH: -- how important is that first paragraph? "Matthew Butler cocked his head to one side, considering the big-boned blond in front of him. She was handcuffed and shackled to a heavy oak chair bolted into the concrete floor beneath bright fluorescent lights."

Do you go back on that and just make sure that it's perfect so that you hook us from the get-go?

PATTERSON: Well, I do. You know, I pretend there's somebody sitting across from me. I'm telling them a story and I don't want them to get up until I'm finished. And that's my strength and it's probably my weakness, too. I probably can go a little deeper sometimes, but I do. I want -- I want to get the reader involved very quickly.

And with the Cross books in particular, I mean, that's my baby. And you never know. This one happens to be one of the -- one of the better ones. It really is a good book.

And it's a week of Christmas for thrillers. And I read them all and I -- I'm fan and some -- my competition didn't do so well this Christmas so the Cross book is in a good position.

SMERCONISH: Why are your readers worldwide so entranced with Alex Cross? What is it about this character that you've tapped into?

PATTERSON: I think they identify -- the idea -- I think everybody can identify with the notion of having a very hard job and trying to balance that with family. And that's what Alex does.

Obviously, his job is over the top as a homicide detective and the things that I do to the poor man. But he also has to balance family. And I think we all -- most of us deal with that. How do -- how do we -- how do we work and then balance family life.

SMERCONISH: James, take me where you do your best work. Where are we? What does it look like? Is music playing? Are we smoking? Are we drinking? What's the deal?

PATTERSON: We drink afterwards. You know, I'm very lucky. I don't work for a living. I write for a living. I play for a living, actually.

And I can write anywhere. I can write on planes. Everything goes bye- bye. I love it. It is not work at all.

My office -- weirdly, there are shelves all around the office. And right now, there are 31 active projects, novels or screen plays or whatever that I'm working on right now.

I remember one of the journalists came there and he went, "This is crazy, this is crazy," as I was showing him all these projects. And then he looked at me and said, "James, you are crazy."

SMERCONISH: James, I made reference to your productivity. And you call on collaborators. I mean, the process is you've develop a very detailed outline -- 70, 80, 90 pages. And then you entrust --


SMERCONISH: -- your babies to other people, true?

PATTERSON: A little bit -- no. No. No. I'm seeing those pages every couple of weeks. And I either go like, "Yes, you're the best." Or, "Hold it, hold it, hold it," and I'll rewrite a lot and I -- and I guide a lot. So I'm not -- I'm not giving up those babies because ultimately it's got my name on it.

So, I just -- no, I don't trust them. I don't trust President Clinton. I don't trust Dolly -- no, actually I do. They're great collaborators.

SMERCONISH: OK. I wanted to ask you -- I wanted to ask you about those two collaborations, Bill Clinton and Dolly Parton.


SMERCONISH: How do their approaches to your craft differ? How are they the same?

PATTERSON: Very similar. Really helpful. You know, authenticity is really useful. And in terms of President Clinton -- he can tell you, "Here's what the secret service will do." And in terms of Dolly, our book is about a rising country and western -- one of those once in a lifetime kind of singers.


And the authenticity in that book, "Run Rose Run," is really good as well. So, they've been great. I love them. They're both friends now. Dolly saying happy birthday to me over the telephone --

SMERCONISH: And in the case --

PATTERSON: -- how do you beat that?

SMERCONISH: -- of the forthcoming -- in the case of the forthcoming Dolly Parton project, am I right that lyrics are going to be woven into the story line?

PATTERSON: Yes. Yes. Yes. And I went down to see her, and we talked about, you know, maybe doing a children's book. And then I had this idea for -- an outline which -- she then worked on the outline. And two days later, she wrote me the lyrics -- she sent me the lyrics for seven songs. She said -- I don't want to get into that because that's going to be heavily promoted in March. But --


PATTERSON: Yes. But -- it's great. It's great. It has been a wonderful thing.

SMERCONISH: All right. "Fear No Evil," can you see how much I have left? Don't go spoiling the ending. I thought it was terrific. And I really appreciate you're being here. I hope that that's a Penn --

PATTERSON: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: -- hat that you are wearing.

PATTERSON: Yes. We got a grizzly bear -- this is -- this is Patterson hat, but it's also -- it's a Penn hat. Our son -- he had to choose between Brown and Penn. He chose Brown, but I don't like Brown's hats.

SMERCONISH: James, thank you. I appreciate it.

PATTERSON: Thank you. Nice to talk to you.

SMERCONISH: Make sure that you're voting at on today's survey question. Have you been there yet? Have you taken a look at it?

I'm asking today whether you agree with an affirmative statement. Put it on the screen so I can remind everybody exactly what we got, Catherine.

Affirmative statement that I want to know do you agree or disagree with. "Unless you are vaccinated or recently tested, you should not be permitted to fly anywhere." Do you agree or disagree with that?

Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the final result of the survey question so go vote right now. Thank you.



SMERCONISH: The state of our children's mental health worsened by the emotional toll of the pandemic is aptly described as a crisis, according to my next guest. A recent CDC study found that nationwide hospitals saw, in a seven-month span in 2020, those ages 5 to 11 had a 24 percent increase in emergency visits due to mental health considerations, compared with the same time period the year before. Among patients 12 to 17, the increase was 31 percent. This is not helped by the fact that while one-third of all children will experience a mental health condition during their lifetimes, less than half will receive treatment.

Joining me now is Dr. Tami Benton, chief psychiatrist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Benton, thank you for being here.

Here's what I most want to ask you. Is there a higher incidence of mental health problems today as compared to say a generation ago or are we just more attuned to these issues?

DR. TAMI BENTON, CHAIR OF PSYCHIATRY, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: You know, that's an excellent question. I think it's a combination of both things.

And so we think that rates of mental health conditions have been relatively stable over time but what we're experiencing is -- you know, recently, since the pandemic, we're seeing rapid escalations in the kinds of problems young people are presented with now. So, probably over time, just with normal variations, there were not significant changes, but the pandemic has significantly exacerbated mental health concerns for young people.

SMERCONISH: Well, to the extent things have changed, would technology be high atop your list as to why?

BENTON: So, in terms of why, I think that there have been -- there's a combination of things. So, there are issues, as I mentioned before, significantly related to the pandemic. But, you know, we've also seen a fairly significant amount of change prior to the pandemic.

So, we were seeing increased rates of anxiety and depression for young people before the pandemic happened. We think those are related to multiple factors. Some of it has to do with how social media is utilized by young people. So social media in itself is not a bad thing but there are some things that really can go wrong in how adolescents use social media, particularly those who are struggling anyway.

So young people who are struggling with anxiety and depression prior to their utilization of social media are young people who are of increased risk of having more difficulties. A lot of increased school stress. You know, young people nowadays are much more concerned about their academic futures and competitive pressures in ways that only exacerbate the anxiety experiences that young people are having. So, it's a combination of factors that are impacting young people now.

SMERCONISH: It seems like there's a big payment problem. That insurance has not kept pace with the concern that you have, the crisis concern that you have. That we don't treat brain health the same that we treat physical health. What can we do about that?

BENTON: So, we're -- we're -- many different approaches to addressing the issues around payment for mental health care. And you hit the nail on the head with your statement.

The reality is that there have been challenges with payment for some time. And most parents would probably tell you they are paying for their services out of pocket, even though they have insurance. And even if you have insurance or you're willing to pay out of pocket there are long waits to see child adolescent psychiatrists or other mental health professionals.


So, some of the things that we're doing to address that is we're looking at ways to diversify how families can access care. So, certainly, you know, there is legislation that we're supporting now to end some of that fragmentation and to support better aligned payment structures. And to support parents so that when families have insurance their insurance will cover mental health and medical health in the same place.

Some of the other things we're doing is we're actually trying to make access better for families. So families should be able to get their care in the same places they get their medical care. We're advocating for increased presence in primary care. Many pediatricians and primary care practices -- you're able to access mental health resources. We're working to expand access in schools so that children can receive the support they need in the places where children are every day.

So, we're approaching these problems with access on multiple different levels, but the payer issue that you identified is a major one. And it would be important for families to advocate with their insurance companies, their manage care companies, to be able to, you know, demand better support for mental health payment in addition to the legislative actions.

SMERCONISH: I wish -- I wish that some individual or group of individuals in Washington would champion that issue of trying to solve the payment problem that are -- is faced by so many families because -- Dr. Benton, to go back to where I started, you point to those CDC numbers that show an escalating number of E.R. visits for youth and adolescents relative to mental health. But how about all of those who, for whatever reason, maybe it's payment, maybe it's stigma, are not going and getting the treatment that they need? That's a real concern.

BENTON: That's an extremely important concern. And so -- you know, I do want to say in response to your initial statement, there actually is tremendous bipartisan support for mental health in Congress right now. So, I'm pleased to say that there's a lot of legislative focus on this particular issue. And many of our legislators have taken this on as a major priority for our nation.

So that's the good news. And it's a good opportunity for to us raise our voices and advocate for more support. They're educating themselves about the issues that you're identifying.

Then the other pieces are that, you know, for families who are concerned about mental health conditions, it's important to ask, starting with your pediatrician, because many families are concerned about the stigma. They're ashamed to let their families or others know that they're struggling with those concerns.

You'd be surprised to know so many people are, you know, at least, you know, one-fifth of young people in our country will struggle with a mental health condition over time. That's actually somewhat significant.

A third, you know, of kids will be affected by some mental health condition in their lifetimes. And we know that less than 20 percent of those struggling with significant conditions won't receive the kind of care that they need. Less than 20 percent --

SMERCONISH: Well, all the more -- all the more reason for a conversation like this. And thank you so much for your willingness to come on and discuss it. I appreciate it.

BENTON: Thank you so much for having me.

SMERCONISH: Thanks, Dr. Benton. Let's see what you're saying via my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. What do we have from Twitter?

In future years, the kids will be much more resilient and adaptable than generations before them. Leaders will come from this.

In future years, the kids will be much more resilient and adaptable. I don't know what gives you that sense of optimism. I'm not so sure that's the case.

I -- you know, I was channeling my peanut allergy question when I posed what I said to Dr. Benton which is, like, I grew up not knowing anybody with a peanut allergy. Surely, they will there, right? I mean, it's good news that we're aware of it now and they can get the treatment that they require.

Mental health, what explains this exponential growth? I'm not sure but we need to get them treated and paid for.

Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we will give you the final results of the survey question from Affirmative statement, do you agree or disagree? "Unless you are vaccinated or recently tested, you should not be permitted to fly anywhere."



SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to this week's survey question at It's an affirmative statement. You were asked to agree or disagree with this. "Unless you are vaccinated or recently tested, you should not be permitted to fly anywhere. Agree or disagree?"

Here's the result. Wow. OK. Decisive and with over 25 -- so people are passionate about it. Now, that might be confirmation bias. Like the people are like, "Yes, nobody gets on the plane unless they're vaccinated," are the ones who come and vote on the survey question. But interesting nonetheless, 25,000 plus. And 95 percent say, yes. That's the right outcome. I'm in the 95 percent for what it's worth.

Here's some of what came in during the course of the program today. What do we have, Catherine?

The airlines, each airline should decide vaccine policy, not government.

Clifford, really? And then you're going to have one airline that wants to appeal to those who don't believe. And what if they say, "Not only don't you have to be vaxxed or tested, you don't even have to wear a mask"? You know, be like the freedom airline, right? Great. And then they fly into another city and they spread the virus.

[09:55:00] No, thank you. What else?

The only time I have seen steadfast anti-vaxxers get vaccinated is to travel. So the mandatory vaccine to travel rule would be an effective method to get people vaccinated and make air travel safer.

Yes, Patrick. Absolutely. We got to turn up the heat a little bit here. Look, here's the bottom line. First words that I think I said when I came on air today were, "The virus knows no boundaries."

We're not going to solve this situation one country at a time. I think there's a tendency here in the United States for us to play small ball. We're so insular. For us, the debate is about whether Gavin Newsom or Ron DeSantis has the right approach. Hey, you know, California and Florida. Florida and California.

Meanwhile, in sub-Saharan Africa, nobody is vaccinated, relatively speaking. And as long as they're not vaccinated, we're all-in trouble. See you next week.