'Special Report' All-Star Panel on CDC's Omicron guidance

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This is a rush transcript of "Special Report with Bret Baier" on December 29, 2021. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BAIER: The decision talked about there, the quarantine from 10 days to five days. A lot of people are saying they are welcoming that, obviously, as more Omicron cases pop up around the country. However, the decision to make it and what's behind it for the CDC director to say it had to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate.

Let's start there. Let's bring in our panel, Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at "The Federalist," Charles Lane, opinion writer for "The Washington Post," and "Washington Post" columnist Marc Thiessen. I guess that perked up my ears, Marc, listening to following the science for so long.

MARC THIESSEN, COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes. No, honestly, we would have been better off in this if the CDC didn't exist. It's been a disaster from the beginning. Just this week they revised downward the prevalence of the Omicron variant from 73.2 percent, which they reported great confidence last week, to they said, no, it actually was 22.5. That's not a minor revision. That's a 50.7 percentage points. How do you get that badly wrong?

And they did this now on the isolation? They also came up with the six feet distance rule out of whole cloth. There was no science behind it. That's what shut down all these schools. So the CDC were wrong on masking, they screwed up the testing at the beginning of the pandemic, they wouldn't let private labs do testing. The CDC is an absolute disaster. I don't understand how people can trust our public health officials anymore.

BAIER: Chuck, what do you think about that, what Marc is saying, and also kind of trying to find out our way forward as we see a less severe Omicron popping up, really in every state?

CHARLES LANE, OPINION WRITER, "WASHINGTON POST": In terms of tolerance, the word of the day, I guess, people will tolerate a lot of things from government in a situation like this. But the one thing they won't tolerate is mixed messages and confusion. And, unfortunately, I think that's kind of what's been coming out of the authorities all over the country now.

You have a situation in Chicago, you guys were just covering, where it seems it's going to be up to the teachers' unions to take a vote as to whether we go back to school or not. There is confusion about exactly how severe Omicron is going to end up being in terms of illness. What it looks like now is we have a high case rate, but Dr. Fauci says it's not that severe of illness. If it's not that severe an illness, then what is the case for closing the schools, et cetera, et cetera?

And after almost two years now into this pandemic, I think a lot of people had the expectation that once we got vaccinations on board, normality would reign, and it would reign pretty much permanently, and we are at a point now where that has not turned out to be the case. And I think there is a danger that some people are going to just throw up their hands and say that's it, I'm not listening anymore.

BAIER: You think about big issues, Mollie, and one of the biggest issues that crosses party lines, Republican, independent, Democrat, is what is happening with schools? What's happening with kids? Just take a listen to the back to school concerns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're prepared, and we know what it takes to save lives, protect people, and keep schools and businesses open.

MARIA MORENO, CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION: There are not enough adults in there, you need to go remote. It is not safe in those buildings.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, (D) NEW YORK CITY: The science is clear, schools need to be open. We are moving every day to make sure our schools remain safe.

LEWIS FEREBEE, D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS CHANCELLOR: We should expect classrooms or schools or grade levels to temporarily transition to a virtual learning posture as needed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: It's hard to imagine virtual learning coming back across the country, Mollie, after what we saw for 18 months and the detriment that a lot of people say it did to kids.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE FEDERALIST": It is scandalous that it's even being proposed. There was never good scientific reason for locking children away from school and in person learning. It really is true now that we know that it is not something that is good for children, that it has a scientific basis.

I was so struck by how Anthony Fauci talked today in terms of the costs and benefits associated with different policies. Cost benefit analysis is what all of our public health officials and the people who listen to them should have been thinking about during this entire pandemic, and it's something that you don't really hear them talk about at all. When you look at schools, the cost to our children of banning children from schools have been way too high. It has been so bad for the mental health of these children. It has been so bad for the educational development of these children. That you have union officials and other bureaucrats talking about doing it again is scandalous.

I will point out that in Virginia, where we recently had an election that saw the unseating of our entire Democratic statewide officials being replaced with Republicans, Arlington, one of the counties here near D.C., just announced they are not going back to virtual learning even though other neighboring counties in D.C. and Maryland are doing just that. And I think that's a realization that politically it is a nonstarter and has had profound consequences for the Democratic officials in Virginia.

BAIER: Yes, and we will see what happens around the country with those decisions down to the school board level.

Meantime, Marc, as we are talking about all the different things, testing, and we have been talking about getting the tests out. You can't get the home tests, and then if you get the antigen test that the administration sends out, now there are questions about whether it works or not with Omicron. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: The antigen test may not perform as well as it had for prior variants, the Alpha variant and the Delta variant, but it's still picking up quite a bit of infection, so a really, really helpful tool.

If you have a negative antigen test and you have symptoms, then you should go ahead and get that PCR test.

DR. MARTY MAKARY, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: If you don't have enough tests to go around, and that's clearly the situation we are in now, then don't issue broad guidance telling everybody to test. We have got to move to a selective testing policy based on rationing our limited resources.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: And it all ties together here, Marc, because some of these school districts are now saying everybody has to test, every kid has to test, every teacher has to test even if they are asymptomatic. It's amazing that it's all tying here together.

THIESSEN: It is amazing. And, also, there is a shortage of PCR test. Try to book a PCR at Walgreen's or CVS and see how long you have to wait for it. They're next to impossible to get. Joe Biden's first act as president was to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Where are the tests? Where was the Operation Warp Speed for therapeutics? We've got shortages of treatments for people.

And as for the schools, one fact that I think people ought to know, Germany just reported, Marty Makary just tweeted this out recently, Germany just reported that in 15 months not one single healthy child has died of COVID in Germany. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC, was asked what the number was here in the United States. She said we don't know. The U.S. government doesn't know whether any healthy children have died of COVID. Well, Germany, not one. There is no excuse for closing schools. There is no excuse for the damage that we are doing to these children that they'll never, especially poorer minority kids, that they'll never recover from.

BAIER: Chuck, with all this commentary and analysis, we are not saying that it's easy, this public policy challenge of COVID. It never was. It wasn't easy for the Trump administration, it is definitely not easy for the Biden administration. But the politics of this, or behind it, if you are the candidate that says you are going to extinguish COVID-19 and you are going to be much more successful in all logistics aspects of it, and that's what you campaign on, then the politics of where we are now is going to turn around and bite them, isn't it?

LANE: Well, they planned, if you can recall, July 4th to be the day of independence from COVID. And maybe at the time they planned that it seemed like a reasonable idea because the vaccines were coming on stream, and it looked like the worse was over. And then along came the Delta variant and scrapped that plan. And now we have another variant. And I think what that shows is that they took kind of what in hindsight doesn't look like a very smart risk in raising a level of expectation of how promptly this virus could be put behind us.

It's just the way politics works. Even if this is a difficult problem to fix, it's very complicated, it's hard to stop the spread of a virus, the person and the party who are in charge when people are dealing with it and they are unhappy about it, and those lines of people for testing reminded me so much of the gas lines I grew up with in the 1970s, the incumbent will pay. And that's what they are looking at if this thing doesn't turn around.

BAIER: People are tweeting me all the time about it. I get inundated with people telling stories. Erika just tweeted, "I can't find a test, Bret. I'm sick as a dog. They are all being snapped up by people who most likely don't even need to test themselves because they are being told that they have to test. This is crazy," she writes.

All right, panel, thank you. When we come back, tomorrow's headlines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: Finally tonight, a look at tomorrow's headlines with the panel. Marc, first to you.

THIESSEN: COVID migration from lockdown states accelerates. As you've reported, there has been in the last 15 months a massive out migration from blue states like Illinois, California, Hawaii, and New York who have instituted strict COVID lockdowns to red states that didn't. As Milton Freidman famously said, the beauty of our federal system is if you don't like the laws your state imposes you can move to another one. Millions of people are doing exactly that.

BAIER: That's exactly right. Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: My headline for tomorrow is that new polling will be released showing that nine out of 10 Americans are ready for Dr. Anthony Fauci to go ahead and take a long walk off a short pier or otherwise move on as frustration grows are his unscientific and ever-changing guidance.

BAIER: All right, Chuck?

LANE: My headline choice is Putin hangs up on Biden, which is not a real headline, but just a way of saying there is something fishy about this request from Vladimir Putin to speak right away with President Biden about the situation in Ukraine, and I have a bad feeling about where he is trying to take this.

BAIER: Yes, supposed to be 3:30 tomorrow morning. We will have that story tomorrow. Thank you, panel.

Tomorrow on SPECIAL REPORT, we'll continue to follow the federal government's response. Plus we've got all of that foreign news as well, including that phone call.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That's it for the SPECIAL REPORT, fair, balanced, and unafraid. "FOX NEWS PRIMETIME" hosted by Ben Domenech, starts right now. Hey, Ben.


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