Watch CBS News

Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on December 12, 2021

12/12: Face The Nation with Margaret Brennan
12/12: Beshear, Sununu, El-Erian 45:57

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:

  • Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear
  • Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson
  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner
  • New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu
  • Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa
  • Mohamed El-Erian, chief financial adviser at Allianz

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST: I'm Margaret Brennan in Washington.

And this week on Face the Nation: A rare cluster of December tornadoes leave a catastrophic trail through the Southeast and Midwest, as COVID cases continue to spike from the colder temperatures.

Dozens of devastating tornadoes tore through the nation's midsection late Friday. The death toll continues to rise, as the affected states scramble to find the missing and to help those who've lost everything.

(Begin VT)

JOE BIDEN (President of the United States): This is likely to be one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history. It's profound.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will get the latest from two governors from the affected states, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, plus Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.

(Begin VT)

GOVERNOR ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): And it's unlike anything that any of us have ever seen, the sheer devastation.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: What caused the extreme weather conditions that triggered these deadly tornadoes.

We will ask CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli.

Then: Delta's winter wave gains ground in the Northeast, with Omicron right behind it. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu will be here. His state is now the nation's top hot spot.

We will also talk to Tulio de Oliveira, the researcher who discovered the Omicron variant in South Africa. Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb will also be here.

Finally, inflation is now at near a 40-year high, and price increases continue to hit consumers hard. Economist Mohamed El-Erian will join us for analysis.

It's all just ahead on Face the Nation.

Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation.

We begin today with the aftermath of Friday's trail of tornadoes that barreled through six states, including Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois, and Kentucky.

CBS News has confirmed 25 deaths at this point. And that number will go higher, especially in Kentucky.

Our David Begnaud reports from the devastated town of Mayfield.

DAVID BEGNAUD: Good morning, Margaret.

As the mural behind me reads, "Welcome to Mayfield: More Than a Memory," memories are all that some people here have left, because, as Kentucky's governor said, "I have got some towns that have gone."

(Begin VT)

DAVID BEGNAUD (voice-over): Devastating death and destruction this weekend, as more than 30 tornadoes ripped through six states from Arkansas all the way up to Illinois.

Hardest-hit appears to be Kentucky, where the governor says one long-track tornado ran 227 miles from Arkansas right into his state.

GOVERNOR ANDY BESHEAR:: This event is the worst, most devastating, most deadly tornado event in Kentucky's history.

DAVID BEGNAUD: The tornado that hit the city of Mayfield, Kentucky, sent debris six miles into the air. It could be one of the most intense and longest tornadoes ever recorded. Entire blocks are nothing but rubble now.

BARBARA TATE (Tornado Survivor): I can't believe that our town is gone now.

DAVID BEGNAUD: Barbara Tate (ph) was inside the now-flattened candle factory here in Mayfield. She was one of more than 100 people inside the factory working on holiday orders.

BARBARA TATE: People hollering for: "Help me, help me."

And you're crying and want to help them, but you can't help them, because you're trying to help yourself.

DAVID BEGNAUD: So far, about 40 people have made it out safe. But the governor said it's going to be a miracle if they find anybody else alive.

In Arkansas, a nursing home saw its roof ripped right off, beds thrown into the parking lot. One resident died. Everyone else was safely evacuated.

The state's governor toured the area Saturday.

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): What struck me the most is that there was not more that lost their life.

DAVID BEGNAUD: The governor of Tennessee credited evacuations for limiting the state's death toll to four.

In Edwardsville, Illinois, the roof of an Amazon warehouse collapsed with the workers still inside. At least six people were killed. Rescue workers worked from sunup to sundown, desperately looking for any signs of life. It's still unclear how many people are missing.

GOVERNOR J.B. PRITZKER (D-IL): There are no words to assuage the pain of losing a loved one.

DAVID BEGNAUD: That is a pain Kentucky's governor says he almost felt himself.

GOVERNOR ANDY BESHEAR:: It's really hard and really painful. I spent eight hours wondering if one of my cousins was still alive.

(End VT)

DAVID BEGNAUD: Just driving here this morning, we noticed that, in farm fields with nothing else around them, no buildings for miles, there are trucks and dumpsters and pieces of homes.

So, you realize that these were whipped into the air like toys and tossed all over this state of Kentucky -- Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David Begnaud, thank you.

We go now to CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli, who joins us from New York.

Jeff, these tornadoes appear to be historic in strength and devastation.

What can you tell us?

JEFF BERARDELLI: Well, it's extraordinarily rare for December. December is usually our most quiet month. But look at this map right here.

So, let's talk about the factors that lead to this. Now, as in any tornado outbreak, you have a huge contrast between cold to the north and warm to the south. What was unusual is just how warm it was. Memphis hit a record high of 80 degrees. And that's why we think that climate change is beginning to factor in.

But I think the bigger factor is La Nina. And I will tell you why. La Nina is present right now. And the latest research shows that we see an increase in tornado activity right there, where we had the tornado outbreak on Friday night, in the mid-Mississippi Valley area.

So that's the overriding factor. So, climate change, let's talk about that. I should first say that there's no trend in tornado numbers due to climate change. However, it may be making the environment more favorable, especially on outbreak days, because you add more warmth, more energy. It's like storms on steroids, and more moisture. That's a more favorable environment for supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes.

I think the biggest shift we're seeing because of climate change, the latest research shows a shift in the actual location, of the increase in tornadoes across the Mississippi Valley, into the Mid-South area. That is a more densely populated area. And they tend to happen at night, which makes these tornadoes more dangerous -- Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Important context.

Thank you, Jeff.

And we go now to the governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear.

Good morning to you, Governor. And our deepest condolences.

GOVERNOR ANDY BESHEAR: Thank you. It's a tough morning.

It's devastation like none of us have ever seen before. We know -- I know that we've lost now more than 80 people, but it's going to exceed 100. But we're digging out. We are tough. We're going to grieve and then we're going to rebuild.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president said you told him this looked like a war zone, but worse.

So where are you in the -- the search-and-rescue or search-and-recovery?

GOVERNOR ANDY BESHEAR: Well, the search-and-rescue continues, both at that candle factory, which will be the largest loss of life throughout the city of Mayfield, which is just leveled and gone.

Half of my dad's hometown, Dawson Springs, doesn't exist anymore. I know our emergency management people are out there going door to door, but there aren't any doors. A lot of this is going through the blocks and the rubble, if you can reach it, and trying to see if there are people there dead or alive.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Before the tornado hit, you said Kentucky was short on nurses. I have read you're now short on housing as well.

What kind of assistance do you need?

GOVERNOR ANDY BESHEAR: Well, what we're doing right now is opening up our state parks and welcoming in any family that needs help.

But we're also good people that look out after one another. And we opened 11 shelters. There's only six still open, because, in times of difficulty, we open our doors to family and sometimes even to strangers. It's been amazing to see the outpouring of support from other Kentucky communities and communities around.

What we're going to need as we move forward, though, is this is, I mean, massive damage, rebuilding of entire communities. We're going to have lost thousands of homes, because, when this tornado hit, it didn't rip a roof off. I mean, it obliterated houses, just totally gone.

So, there's going to be a lot of work. And Kentuckians need to know that we're going to be with them and the country is going to be with them, not just today and not just this week, but in the months and even the years to come.

MARGARET BRENNAN: As you rebuild, how do you account for what seems to be extraordinarily extreme weather?

GOVERNOR ANDY BESHEAR: Well, as of today, just a day after, we're worried about finding other Kentuckians. We're worried about providing shelter for them.

We are grieving with so many families. And we'll worry about or think about the cause once we have everybody stabilized.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I have read that the youngest fatality was a 5-month- old.

As you said, families...


MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

GOVERNOR ANDY BESHEAR: I know we've lost a number of kids.

I know we lost a 3-year-old in Graves County too. I think we lost maybe a 5-year-old in Muhlenberg County. Death and this -- this tornado didn't discriminate against anybody in its path, even if they were trying to be safe, again, just -- just like nothing we've ever seen before.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And I know the country's hearts go out to you.

Is there anything that people at home who are listening can do to help the people of Kentucky?

GOVERNOR ANDY BESHEAR: Well, we will continue to accept every prayer that we can get.

We are hoping for miracles, as today is really day two of trying to find people. We've also set up a fund specifically connected to the state that is going to go solely to the families in Western Kentucky that have been hit.

That's the It's going to be fully transparent and make sure that, first, we're going to help people with funeral expenses. And then we're going to help them rebuild, knowing that the costs they're going to face are going to be long-term.

But I want to thank the entire country. You have been there with us. We appreciate the love and the support. We are tough people. We're going to get through it. And it's not going to be easy.

I'm still emotional after a couple of days. Just learned that my uncle lost a couple of cousins in Muhlenberg County.

So, we're going to make it. We're going to see the other side. And we're going to rebuild.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you will. And I know the country will be hoping and pulling for you.

And my condolences to your family as well. Thank you very much, Governor.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And we're going to go now to Arkansas and their governor, Asa Hutchinson, who joins us from Rogers.

Good morning to you, governor.

I know -- I know...

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you lost at least two people in your state, and we are sorry for your losses.


And our heart goes out to Kentucky as well. They clearly got hit in a more severe manner, probably the same tornado. We're looking forward to having more information.

But we lost one, which is a miracle that we only lost one, in a nursing home in Monette, Arkansas. And, there, the staff did an incredible job of using their own body to shield some of the residents.

And the fact that there was a warning system in place helped them to move them into the hallway. That saved lives, and really emphasizes the importance of the early warning system, the sirens, and taking action whenever you hear that.


I read that you have about 20,000 people without power. What is recovery and cleanup like for you right now? What do you need?

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, first of all, I did declare an emergency that allowed our emergency workers to move and to work extra hours and to take the steps that are necessary in the recovery.

The -- we did have over 20,000 out of power. That has been reduced significantly. Our power companies are doing an extraordinary job of restoring electricity.

But what happens now is, this is a very unusual event. It's almost like the tornado going through Arkansas picked cities along the path. Many times, they are more rural areas. Here, we hit multiple towns, causing enormous loss of homes and businesses.

So, the recovery is going to be longer. I would encourage people to look at their American Red Cross, the church groups that help us in providing immediate housing, but also water. And that's a way that everybody can help through those types of organizations that are on the scene.

We've got to assess the damage. We've got to first, of course, get everybody in shelter that they need. And we're quickly taking action on that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know these are early days, but do you have any kind of cost estimate for the level of damage?

I know there's that big infrastructure package and money in there coming your way. Do you know if any of it will be enough?

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: It's too early to tell on that.

But we have hundreds and hundreds of homes that have been lost, businesses that have been totally destroyed. There's going to be, of course, the shelter and other costs associated with it. And there's a lot of public infrastructure that has been damaged through this, from fire stations to otherwise.

I talked to President Biden yesterday. He assured me that he would cut through any red tape that was necessary. They want to help in the response, and so that helps build confidence. We've got to make the assessment and then determine exactly what those dollar figures are, and it's too early to tell at this point.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In looking at what's been happening in your state, you started the year with some extreme weather events. And now you're here.

How do you prepare for these kinds of dramatic weather events, now that you rebuild? Do you have -- approach things differently?


I mean, first, you look back in my administration, we've had the historic 500-year flood. We've had, of course, tornadoes. We've had, of course, the winter freezing event that caused us to lose power. And so these extreme weather events, we're having to spend more time in preparing for.

We're trying to build the resiliency. We're trying to build our recovery efforts. And the infrastructure bill that was passed in Congress will help us to address some of these needs, particularly in our water infrastructure, but also our levee system and our irrigation systems that are part of our infrastructure that are damaged by these severe weather events, particularly the flooding.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I know, Governor, the country is watching, and prayers will be sent your way by so many who are listening to you right now.

Thank you very much, and good luck.

We'll be back...


MARGARET BRENNAN: ... in just one minute.


MARGARET BRENNAN: The Omicron variant has now been reported in 27 states, but Delta is still much more prevalent and more severe.

CBS News senior national correspondent Mark Strassmann reports.

(Begin VT)

MARK STRASSMANN (voice-over): Call it Thanksgiving's COVID hangover, average number of cases up 37 percent from last week, hospitalizations rising in at least 42 states, deaths up almost 30 percent.

By next weekend, the CDC predicts up to another million Americans could be infected, with December's biggest COVID worry still ahead, Christmas.

A CBS News poll says that, over the holiday season, despite the threat from both strains, two-thirds of Americans still plan to gather with friends and families. More than half will travel by car or dine in a restaurant. Just one in five say they have canceled plans because of Omicron.

This is Grand Rapids, one of the nation's hot spots last holiday season. Michigan's now seeing an even higher number of cases. And that number is rising. The state's chief medical officer calls the situation critical.

WOMAN: Cases are surging, hospitals are full, and we have a new variant.

MARK STRASSMANN: Military medics have jumped in the COVID front lines, 11 teams in five states, other reinforcements in this fight, people getting booster shots, a new record average, more than 900,000 today.

Starting tomorrow, New York state has an indoor mask mandate for anywhere without a vaccination requirement.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): I have to protect people, but also the economy.

MARK STRASSMANN: An economy that suddenly feels vulnerable. The inflation rate is up almost 7 percent from this time last year, the highest annual increase in almost 40 years. Everything's up since last year, home prices, groceries, gas, which leaves COVID America coming to terms with a different kind of sticker shock.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's Mark Strassmann in Michigan.

We will be right back with Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He's standing by.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who sits on the board of Pfizer.

Good morning to you.


MARGARET BRENNAN: So, we see certainly here in the North -- in the Northeast, Delta infections are picking up.

In New York, they're going to start requiring masks tomorrow indoors if vaccines aren't required for entry in the first place. Do you think other governors should follow suit and start requiring masks?

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, we've seen the Delta wave course through most parts of this country.

Right now, we're at about 36 cases per 100,000 people per day. To put that in perspective, about six weeks ago, we were at 20. Germany, which is having a very dense epidemic right now, is about 50 cases per 100,000 people per day.

Most of those cases right now are being driven by very dense epidemics in the Great Lakes region and New England. I think, in those parts of the country, it is prudent to start taking steps to try to control the spread. There are certain states, like New Hampshire and Massachusetts, where the health care systems are beginning to get pressed.

And mask mandates are the easiest thing we can do, the sort of collective action that put some downward pressure on spread. It would be a temporary measure just to try to preserve the health care systems at this point.

Most of the country is through the Delta wave. And the reason why you're seeing cases go up so much right now is in part driven by the dense epidemics in these very populated states. But, also, you're seeing some uptick even in states that have gotten through their Delta wave, in part because people are moving indoors because of the colder weather and the holidays.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, we have looked at the data, and more than one in four adults is not fully vaccinated. Only one in four adults has received a booster.

Can we blame the unvaccinated for the spread? Is something else driving this?

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, the unvaccinated is certainly the individuals who are showing up in the health care system requiring advanced care.

There probably is a reasonable amount of spread even among the vaccinated individuals at this point, particularly people who only have two doses of vaccine, probably are getting subclinical or mild infections and are contributing to the spread as well.

But if we look at this time last year, when we were dealing with a far less transmissible strain, we had about 120,000 hospitalizations. Now, with a far more transmissible strain and perhaps a strain that's slightly more virulent, we have 60,000 hospitalizations, still tragic, but the vaccines are having an impact on reducing hospitalizations and severe disease, which is really the thesis that we held out for these vaccines all along.


You were talking about another variant there, Omicron, that we've been speaking about in the past few weeks. There's projections in the U.K. that it will very soon overtake Delta. They're taking some emergency measures there in Europe.

Should we expect that wave to come here and overtake Delta as well?

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Yes, look, I think it's an open question.

We can't really transfer the experience from one country to another, because there's different levels of immunity in different populations, different countries, and also different states as you even move across the United States. The U.K. does look a lot like the U.S. in terms of having a lot of vaccine-induced immunity and a lot of immunity from prior infection, and also a lot of people who have been boosted and people who've been infected and then subsequently vaccinated.

And they appear to have the best immunity against this new variant. What we're seeing in South Africa right now is the potential, the indication that this may be peaking in the hard- hit Gauteng province and Johannesburg and Pretoria. If that's the case, I think modelers are going to have to reassess some of the early estimates on perhaps when this first began.

It might have been spreading furtively, and it was -- it went unnoticed initially, and we caught the peak of an epidemic or an epidemic that was well under way, rather than the very beginning of an epidemic. And that might change some of the impressions about the transmissibility of this virus.

The other possibility is that this coursed very quickly through a subset of the population that's excessively vulnerable to it, and we know it hit very hard people with prior Delta infection who are unvaccinated.

So, it may be that people who just have Delta-induced immunity are excessively vulnerable to this variant. This is going to take some time to figure out. If, in fact it is indeed peaking in Johannesburg, I think that's going to cause us to reflect on some of the modeling we've been doing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're going to look at that later on in the program. Thank you.

Doctor, Pfizer's CEO said this week a fourth dose of the mRNA vaccine might be needed against Omicron sooner, rather than later. You know there are so many vaccine skeptics out there. For those who say, oh, this is just big pharma trying to push vaccines, what is your explanation of the science here?

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, he's talked about the fourth dose specifically in reference to immunocompromised individuals.

And, in fact, we know that some people who are immunocompromised, organ transplant patients, for example, doctors are prescribing multiple doses for those patients, because we know they don't get a good response to vaccines generally. And Israel is also looking at making a fourth dose available to a subset of the population who have immune-related disorders.

What he also talked about was the possibility that this is going to become an annual vaccine. And I do think that this is going to be, for a period of time, something that we have to get revaccinated...


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: ... for on an annual basis, in part because immunity wanes...


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: ... and in part because it's going to drift over time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Doctor, I have got to take a quick break. Thank you.

We'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be right back with the governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, and a leading scientist from South Africa on that new variant.



We turn now to New Hampshire, where Covid cases are on the rise as temperatures drop.

Governor Chris Sununu joins us from Newfield.

Good morning to you, Governor.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R-NH): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it is stunning to see hospitalizations in your state, they've jumped about 25 percent over the last two weeks. I know you've asked for help from the National Guard and help from FEMA.

Why do you think you're seeing such a dramatic spike?

CHRIS SUNUNU: It's winter. It -- it really is. And -- and, you know, we've been planning for this winter surge since July. I had teams -- when we saw numbers increasing all across the southern part of the country, we had teams and CEOs of hospitals visiting other states to see how they were managing kind of that summer delta sure so we could prepare.

So, unfortunately, we were right in that the surge is upon us. And what you see all across New England right now, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, are a rise in cases, the upper Midwest, and now you're seeing in more in the mid-Atlantic states, unfortunately, like New Jersey and New York.

So, ultimately, as winter comes, the seasonality, if you will, of this virus is really taking precedent, but we're prepared and we're trying a lot of different, innovative things to flex the bed space and whatnot within the hospital system. It's really important that the health care system is preserved.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said 20 percent of the hospitalized and vaccinated. Are they also boosted?

CHRIS SUNUNU: Twenty percent are vaccinated. I can't tell you if -- if that 20 percent in the hospital was boosted. I can tell you very likely not. I mean the booster really minimizes to the point of fractions of a percent of a chance in terms of having a severity. The booster is so, so important and it's why we're pushing out so strong.

When the booster was first made available, ah, in the first couple of weeks people really weren't taking it. Now they're seeing the hospitalizations rise, they're seeing, unfortunately, their friends, neighbors and co- workers come down with this very aggressive delta variant. They're taking it a little more seriously. And we have a lot more folks going after the booster, which is hugely important in terms of not just preventing Covid-19, but most importantly preventing the most severe aspects of Covid.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You got boosted yesterday, I understand. Why did you wait so long?

CHRIS SUNUNU: Well, we did a booster blitz yesterday, which was great.

So, frankly, it was -- it was out of promotion more than anything. We put about 12,000 needles in arms across the state all in one day in dozens of locations across the state. We'll do it again. You can only do those every once in a while because you don't want to draw off of the hospital systems and the nurses and the frontline workers that have to give that. So every few weeks we're going to do these booster blitzes. So, if anything, it was more out of a -- the promotion of it, but it was a great day, hugely successful, and we're going to do it again.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard Dr. Scott Gottlieb, just before you, say like one of the lightest lift health precautions you could possibly do is put in place a mask mandate. Why are you choosing not to do so?

CHRIS SUNUNU: Well, it's not necessarily a light lift. Look, masks are incredibly important. There's no doubt about it. Schools can do it. Localities can do it, if they want to.

But when you look at all these different mandates that you can -- can or cannot put in place, there's always a downside as well. And we talked about the Swiss cheese effect, right, social distancing, masks, far and away the most important thing is get vaccinated, get your boosters, quick access to testing, and these are all pieces of the puzzle to reduce the transmission of the virus.

So, it's just not a matter of whether we do it or not. And, remember, you know, a lot of these cases are received over the holidays, when you're spending time with family or you're at the workplace. And, again, a mask isn't necessarily going to stop the family spread that we see a lot here. So it's not that it's not important, but when you do a mandate to a state of emergency, that just takes on a whole different level.

One of the most important things I think is -- is that -- home testing. We're really aggressive. We're the first state in the country to allow home testing. Anyone in the state can click a button and in about three days we put a million tests in people's homes. And I know that a bit contradicts what the White House is pushing --


CHRIS SUNUNU: But I can tell you, if folks have access to a test in their home and they can find out if they're positive or negative, it really -- it takes just that one or two days that you're saving from getting your results back, it can drastically reduce the transmission. So we're going to keep doing programs like that and making sure that we've been this curved down over the winter surge.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You talked about mask mandates not necessarily being a light lift. In your state, you've had anti-vaccine protestors. I know you, last year, canceled your public ceremony for your own inauguration because of armed protestors who objected to some of your health restrictions.

Is that kind of physical backlash, that kind of security risk, why you're not putting in place a mask mandate?

CHRIS SUNUNU: Oh, no. No, no, no, no, not at all.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's not a factor?

CHRIS SUNUNU: Look, when -- what -- no, no, it's not a factor at all. That's a very small contingency. So, if, at the end of the day, you know, you'd have to do a full state of emergency.

And remember, when I -- If I do a mask mandate as a governor -- remember, almost no state has mask mandates right now. But as a governor, if you were to do that, every district, every county, whether you have high transmission levels, whether you're highly vaccinated or not, it covers everybody. And what you're really telling folks is, thank you for making the sacrifice and getting the vaccine, getting the boosters, doing the right thing and you're still in the penalty box. And the fact of the matter is, Covid isn't likely going away any time soon.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, penalty box. No, it's just -- it's not a penalty box.


MARGARET BRENNAN: I mean for people with unvaccinated family members, small children, immunocompromised, it's just putting on a mask.

CHRIS SUNUNU: Sure. So -- so, yes, so let's -- if I were to put a mask mandate in now, when do I undo it? Covid-19 isn't going away for the next couple of years. We're going to have omicron. We're going to have new variants. The fact of the matter is, you start putting restrictions in place today, you --

MARGARET BRENNAN: How about for the winter?

CHRIS SUNUNU: You mean at the end of the winter? And then it comes back again. And then the state of emergency is on and then it's off. I mean, really, you get into a situation where you're putting the state --

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said -- well, you said winter was the biggest factor driving things. So, keep a mask on for winter, take it off in the warm weather?

CHRIS SUNUNU: Sure. Oh, and we strongly encourage folks to wear masks, especially when they're in close proximity, they're indoors. If schools want to do it, absolutely. And I think we're having a lot of success. But it's -- that is just one small piece of the equation here. It's about vaccines. It's about boosters. It's about doing all the other things that you have to do to put into place to be successful.

And if you look at states -- look, we're one of the most vaccinated states in the country. So is Vermont, right? A state that have had mask orders. It's not an end-all be-all. You have to put all of these pieces into the pie and understand that communities are different, schools are different, how we treat our holiday gatherings might be different. And at the end of the day, it's about personal responsibility, getting that vaccine, getting that booster, being smart about it, getting yourself tested early, all of these are the most important pieces of the puzzle to bending the curve and making sure we push back on Covid.


I -- on that question of personal responsibility, I -- you are very clearly encouraging people to go get a vaccine, to go get a booster, but your state is also suing the Biden administration over the vaccine or test mandate for businesses and for health workers.

Isn't that a mixed message? Aren't you concerned some of your constituents might misunderstand what you're communicating?

CHRIS SUNUNU: No. No, not at all. It's very clear, if a business or something or someone wants to put a mandate in place, that's one thing. But when the government starts mandating health choice for individuals, that doesn't -- that -- that is a whole different ballgame right there. And so whether it's the federal government or the state government, you shouldn't have mandates that impose vaccines, you shouldn't have mandates that don't allow vaccines. You've got to let businesses and individuals make that choice for themselves.

And in New Hampshire we're the life free or die state. We're the number one state for freedom. And we've also been able to balance the safety of Covid through all of these different surges I think better than -- than most. We're at the front lines of the Covid surge right now, to be sure, but that's because we're at the front lines of winter. And, unfortunately, we're going to see it through the -- through the rest of the country as well. And we want to kind of lead by example, put some of these innovative pieces in place, like home testing or whatever it might be, and hopefully have folks kind of follow along and understand that we're in this for the long haul. This isn't just beating it back for the next 60 days. We're going to be dealing with Covid probably for the next couple of years.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, good luck to you with this surge, and thank you for your time today.

CHRIS SUNUNU: You bet. Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: The omicron variant has been detected in at least 57 countries around the world, but the delta variant remains dominant.

CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports from Seoul, South Korea.


The world is now in the middle of a fourth wave of this persistent virus. And with winter coming on, the biggest spikes are in the United States, Russia, and in northern Europe.


ELIZABETH PALMER (voice over): Germany has been hit hard, especially Bavaria, where there's been a stubborn core of vaccine resistance. These patients are most likely sick with delta, which is still the dominant variant worldwide.

European governments have been trying hard to salvage a festive season for citizens who have had enough of lockdowns.

Hungary allowed it's traditional Christmas markets to open this year as long as shoppers had valid vaccine passports.

But everyone is braced for omicron, which looks vastly more contagious.

Britain's health security agency warned omicron infections may be neck-in- neck with delta ones in the U.K. by the end of next week. But in encouraging news, a British study showed a Pfizer booster, on top of Pfizer or AstraZeneca initial shots offers good protection against the new mutation.

In Codiwar (ph), West Africa, a musical summons to get vaccinated. There, and everywhere around the world, health workers are rushing to get doses into arms.


ELIZABETH PALMER: Currently, more than 35 million doses of the vaccine are being administered every day. It's impressive, but it's still not enough to end the pandemic.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Elizabeth Palmer, thank you.

We want to go now to Dr. Tulio de Oliveira. He leads a team of South African scientists that first reported omicron to the World Health Organization. He joins us now from Stellen Bash (ph), South Africa.

Good morning.

TULIO DE OLIVEIRA (Director, Centre for Epidemic Response And Innovation In South Africa): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are seeing the impact of omicron firsthand. Who is getting sick. And is this mild or severe illness?

TULIO DE OLIVEIRA: The omicron, it's -- it's only a few weeks old. We -- we detect that very, very quick here. We estimate that the date of origin of this variant, it -- it's either end of October or beginning of November. Normally take a few weeks between infection and the need for hospitalization.

So, what we saw in the last few days, it is increasing that transmission (ph), and that it is something that we are really looking very carefully at the data in South Africa.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it too early to say if the illness is mild?

TULIO DE OLIVEIRA: The responsible way to say is that a little bit early to say that it's mild. What we're going to have to tease apart, if it's a mild case, is to young people get infected, or if the previous population are immune from infection and vaccination, responsible for increasing the number of hospitalized individuals.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is omicron affecting small children differently? Were seeing numbers of hospitalized children under the age of five in South Africa. What's going on?

TULIO DE OLIVEIRA: So one thing that we know from the omicron is that it then (ph) generates (ph) very high viral loads. What it means, it means that the infection, and because a very transmissible variant, tend to have higher level of virals replication.

So, what we have seen in the beginning is large number of young children being hospitalized. But these numbers are being decreased as this variant starts spreading in the older population.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, does it affect children differently?

TULIO DE OLIVEIRA: It is -- because it's a very highly transmissible variant, yes, it tends to cause a high number of infection in children. At the moment, it is difficult to tease if the rate of hospitalization of children in the beginning is due to the sheer number of infection in the younger population, or if it is because cause more severe disease here. But one thing that we see is that the younger population presenting to the hospital is decreasing over time, especially in the last few days.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe that you are past the peak of infection in South Africa? Because recent trends are suggesting there's a slowing.

TULIO DE OLIVEIRA: We do not know. And one should always be very careful to look at individual daily tests. What one has to do is to look at the general trend over seven or 14 days. What we know is that the last week we were at the highest number of infections from omicron. And what we're going to be doing is looking very carefully at the data. Potentially how things in Johannesburg may have peak, but what we have seen is that this has spread for the other eight provinces. South Africa as nine provinces. The numbers are increasing and increasing very fast.

MARGARET BRENNAN: At least two dozen countries have travel restrictions on South Africa.

Dr. Fauci, here in the U.S., said America would like to lift it as soon as they have evidence to justify it.

Do you believe the travel ban can be safely lifted now?

TULIO DE OLIVEIRA: Yes, of course. First travel ban, they do not work. And you're going to remember one of your previous president, that was the first one to put the travel ban to China, and the United States of American end up with the higher number of infected individuals of such Cov- 2 (ph) and with the highest death toll in the -- in the -- in the world.

And not only travel bans do not work, but they also -- (INAUDIBLE) encourage scientists like us that have been brave enough to identify a variant that have emerged like a week or two after that emerged. I personally have talked to Tony Fauci many times in the last few weeks, and we both agree that not only the travel ban should be released because not effective, but will just encourage the rest of the world to become public in key, crucial data that can help the response to the pandemic.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Doctor, good luck with your research. Thank you for your time today.

We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We learned last week that inflation is rising at the fastest rate in nearly four decades. We go now to Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser for Allianz Financial Services Company and he joins us this morning from Philadelphia.

Good to have you here.

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN (Allianz Chief Economic Adviser): Thanks for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The White House says that this number we just got, the 6.8 percent inflation figure, is backward looking because gas prices are coming down right now.

Do you think that we've actually passed peak inflation?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN: So it is a backward-looking number. I don't think we have peaked -- we have passed peak inflation. And that's despite all the efforts that the White House is putting in to limit inflation. I think we're going to see inflation stay around that level for a while.


MOHAMED EL-ERIAN: A few months. You know, we're seeing a very interesting transition. The original driver of inflation, supply disruptions, labor shortages, the driver is still there but less powerful. But the driver has planted all these other seeds for other sorts of inflation. And that's not a problem because of what the White House is or is not doing. This is a problem because of what the Federal Reserve is failing to do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the Federal Reserve chair, Jay Powell, has said he will retire that word "transitory." It sounds like you are saying that word should not be used at all, period.

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN: Yes. I've been saying this for months. The characterization of inflation is transitory is probably the worst inflation call in the history of the Federal Reserve. And it results in a high probability of a policy mistake. So the Fed must quickly, starting this week, regain control of the inflation narrative and regain its own credibility, otherwise it will become a driver of higher inflation expectation that feed onto themselves.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's an incredible thing to say, not just about the Fed chair, but the Treasury secretary is a former Fed chair herself.

Why do you think that they are both fundamentally wrong?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN: Well, I think the numbers have proven that transitory inflation was a mischaracterization. The Fed never expected inflation to be at 6.8 percent. If you look at all the projections they made this year, they were way below this. So they fundamentally misanalysed the inflation.

Now, that's not a problem if they catch up now. If they're honest about their mistake and take steps now, they can still regain control of it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the Fed has a meeting this coming week. As you know, they've been undertaking these emergency programs because of the pandemic, buying something like $100 billion in bonds each month.

Are you saying they need to hit the brakes hard right now in order to get control?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN: No, I'm saying in order to avoid hitting the brakes hard, because if you've hit the brake hard in a few months there's a risk you send this economy into a recession. And it would be unnecessary harm to livelihoods.

What they need to do now, Margaret, is ease their foot off the accelerator. There is no reason why they should be injecting so much liquidity. There is so -- no reason why they should be boosting the housing market at a time when house prices are pricing Americans out of buying homes. They should ease their foot off the accelerator in order to avoid slamming on the brakes later on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And raising rates, when do we talk about that?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN: Oh, we should be starting to talk about that now. There is the possibility that they may have to raise rates.

Look, it's important to stop inflation being embedded into the system because two things happen when inflation gets embedded. One, you lose purchasing power and the poor suffer the most. Second, you get a Fed overreaction and then you get a recession and then you get income losses. So you really want to navigate this process in a timely and orderly way.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, if I look at what's happening around the country right now, we've talk about devastation that just happened in the midsection of this country due to these incredible tornadoes. Then I look at the northeast, and I see Covid spiking and all the uncertainty it brings with that.

How much are these crises going to impact the growth that the White House tells us again and again is very promising and ultimately showing a healthy economy?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN: It's certainly a risk, but it's not the baseline. The underlying strength of the economy is undeniable. You see this in the labor market. You see this in what companies are doing. So the underlying strength of this economy is absolutely undeniable.

But you want to be careful that you don't create more headwinds through policy mistakes. So we can deal with these really unfortunate shocks. We still have enough momentum, but we don't have enough momentum to overcome a policy mistake.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you listen to the business community, which has been warning about inflation for some time, you also hear people say this nightmare scenario of 1970s era inflation.

Are people overreacting when they make that comparison or is it fair?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN: So I'm going to give you a mixed answer. They're not overreacting in terms of the dynamics, which is a supply shock. This time it was supply disruptions and labor shortages. In the '70s it was the oil shock causing other drivers of inflation.

But they are overreacting when -- when they say we're going to get to double-digit inflation. We're not going to get to double-digit inflation. We risk staying high inflation in the five to six level, and that's much higher for what the economy and the financial markets are priced for. So we've got to be really careful.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When it comes to -- to fiscal policy and what the president is doing, you're saying inflation's global, so it's not all on President Biden's shoulders. But you have at least one prominent Democratic senator saying, we can't go ahead with more congressional spending bills right now because inflation is a risk. It -- should we be worried about that?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN: No, on the contrary, what is on the table in terms of fiscal, fundamentally addresses the two problems we have. One is labor, forced participation. If you look at what is in the bill, that encourages more people to participate in the labor force. And that addresses labor shortages and productivity over the longer term.

And the second one is climate. So, no, we should not step back from that bill. We should go forward because actually that bill is part of the solution, it's not part of the problem.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Thank you so much for your analysis. And we will all be watching that Fed meeting later this week.

We will be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Before we go, we do want to note the passing of Kansas Republican Senator Bob Dole, who passed away last Sunday. We thank him for his service to the nation and for the many times he appeared on this broadcast to talk politics or policy.

Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.


Content and programming Copyright MMXXI CBS Broadcasting Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2021 VIQ Media Transcription, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of VIQ Media Transcription, Inc. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.