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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, December 9, 2020

Guests: Josh Shapiro, Davidson Hamer


Interview with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. MSNBC's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.



JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: And it's a very uncomfortable American conversation, but it's one -- it's one we've had. It's one we need to continue to have. And the great thing about the Constitution, as hard as it is to amend, it was built to amend.

HAYES: That's also true. Great discussion from both of you, Jon Meacham and Meagan Hatcher-Mays. I really enjoyed that. Thank you both for that. I really appreciate it.


HAYES: That is ALL IN on this Wednesday evening.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.

HAYES: You bet.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

Before I forget, I want to tell you that I'm going to be on "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert tonight if you want to watch. I'll be talking with Mr. Colbert about the new book I just wrote that came out yesterday. It's called "Bag Man." I'll also talk with him, I imagine, about, you know, the long, slow end of our presidential election, the coronavirus vaccine, lots of other things. That's tonight, Stephen Colbert.

Also, a little later on this hour, I will tell you how you can come to an online event with me about "Bag Man," about the new book if you are at all interested in that. I will have details on that a little later on.

I'm supposed to have told you about that like every night for the past four nights, and I have forgotten every single one of those four nights. But I am committed to tell you tonight. That's why I'm putting this little reminder here so I at least feel extra guilty if I forget later on. All right.

But we are following a number of developing stories tonight both in the world of legal and political news but also when it comes to the pandemic. And let's start there first and foremost.

Just within the past hour, the COVID tracking project has posted the latest numbers for our country for today, and today for the first time ever, the United States has had more than 3,000 Americans die in one day from the coronavirus.

In the last 24 hours, 3,054 Americans are known to have died from this disease. That's the largest number we've had ever. This puts the death toll just today on par with some of the greatest tragedies in our nation's history, events remembered for decades, generations, for more than a century. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 killed 2,977 people.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, an immense conflagration that burned whole swaths of that city to the ground, brought that city to its knees, that killed 3,000 people.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. I can tell you that the 1906 earthquake is very much alive still today. It changed that part of the country forever. It has never been forgotten.

We lost more Americans just today, just today than we did in that catastrophe in 1906.

This week, we, of course, marked the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941, 2,400 Americans killed in that surprise ambush attack by Japan, 2,400 dead on that date that still lives in infamy, 2,400 Americans killed. More than 3,000 Americans killed today, which is just Wednesday now. And what will tomorrow bring?

Last night we talked about the first patients in the U.K. being administered the coronavirus vaccine manufactured by Pfizer. Today, Canada approved that same vaccine. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying Canada will start vaccinating people in urban areas in each of the ten Canadian provinces starting the beginning of next week.

Even still with that quick start, he says vaccinating a majority of the Canadian population is something they think will take until September of next year. Again, September of next year before they think they'll have most Canadians vaccinated.

Now, for context, the population of Canada is under 40 million people. We've got nearly 330 million people in this country. When do we expect to have the majority of our people vaccinated?

Well, it should start at least fairly soon. Tomorrow something called the vaccines and related biological products advisory committee is going to meet, and they're going to meet publicly. They're going to meet to give their recommendation to the FDA on the approval of the Pfizer vaccine here in the U.S.

Now, this advisory committee is an outside group of independent experts that advises the FDA on matters like this, and it's good that we've got that structure. At least in my opinion, knowing what I know about these things, and I know a little bit about this part of the regulatory world. This is a good thing that there's an independent advisory board.

Without going into too much detail about it, you will recall that the FDA itself has come under all the same, you know, bizarre, snake oil pressure that the CDC and all the other government agencies did from the quacks at the Trump White House over the course of this epidemic. It is good that the FDA calls on outside experts to help them make hard decisions about vaccine safety.

I mean you will recall that under the Trump administration, we got FDA approval and then FDA un-approval of hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID after President Trump saw segments about it on Fox News prime time how it was definitely the cure so he leaned on the FDA to approve that as a treatment, they had to very quickly un0approve it when it became obvious through the scientific method that it wasn't actually helping. So, it's good the FDA is not making this decision on its own given the way they have been pressured by the Trump White House just like the CDC has.

For vaccine safety, this will be a panel of outside experts, a panel of 23 independent outside experts who are formed as an advisory group specifically to advise the FDA on whether or not to give their approval for vaccines. That is a good system. That is a sound structure.

And when that group meets tomorrow to hear the evidence and take questions and have their discussion and make their recommendations, the signs are good that they're going to say yes, that this vaccine should be approved. The head of the committee is a researcher at the University of Michigan, and today, he said, quote, I would predict the likelihood approval is high. But again, we'll all get to see it transparently ourselves. That meeting is tomorrow, starting tomorrow morning, and that meeting does mean that we will likely have a vaccine against coronavirus approved in the United States as of the time I am talking to you tomorrow night.

But even still, we will still likely have something on the order of 3,000 more Americans dead tomorrow, if tomorrow is anything like today. Even in the best case scenario, it will be months and months and months before enough Americans are vaccinated to put a dent in the epidemic. I mean, it does give us something to aim for, right?

We can now say to ourselves and to each other, it's not forever. You just need to do everything you can to get you and your family through to the vaccine, right? Stay safe and stay uninfected for long enough to get you through to the vaccine.

The sacrifices that we are making, economic, social, mental health, and every other way, they are very, very difficult sacrifices, but they won't be forever. Stay safe. Keep you and your family uninfected and alive long enough to get through to the vaccine. It is good to know what the closed bracket is on these parentheses, right? It is good to have even a glimpse, even an expectation of how this might someday end when we finally get there.

But it's going to be a long time till we're there, and meanwhile right now, we are in the bottomlands -- 3,000 Americans dead in one day today. One in 22 Americans have tested positive for coronavirus. Over 100,000 Americans hospitalized with coronavirus tonight and intensive care units Capitol Hilled to Capitol Hilled to capacity in communities all across the country.

We have an expert joining us tonight, this hour, to talk about the way some communities in the United States are now diagnosing not just individual people that have the virus via individual testing. Some communities are now using a direct and fairly simple way to diagnose the overall level of coronavirus infection in the whole community all at once.

So we're going to talk tonight with that expert about what to do when a diagnostic tool like that, which shows you the level of infection in a whole community, what that community should do if that tool all of a sudden reveals a scary super-high new spike in infections. That is what happened this past week in one major U.S. city. They have a diagnostic tool that tells them how much coronavirus there is in the whole city all at once.

It went off the charts within this past week. How is that city responding knowing that even though all of those people whose infections are represented in that data may not know they're positive, the city now knows that's what's coming? What do you do when you know the train is coming at you that fast?

So we're talking about that tonight. As I mentioned, there's also legal and political drama tonight basically on all fronts. The son of President-elect Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, announced today that his, quote, tax affairs are being investigated by the U.S. attorney, by the top federal prosecutor in the state of Delaware. Hunter Biden, you will recall, was the subject of a vociferous smear campaign by the president and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, some of which played a role in the president's impeachment. That smear campaign against Biden late in the campaign was joined by elected Republicans in both the house and the senate.

None of that smear campaign raised against hunter Biden by Republicans at all levels -- none of that smear campaign was about hunter Biden's tax affairs, but that's what he says he is being investigated for now.

CNN is reporting tonight that this investigation was live before the presidential election, that it essentially went dormant in the immediate lead-up to the election because of that U.S. Justice Department policy that says investigations related to candidates and their campaigns shouldn't be carried out in such a way that they might influence federal election in the immediate run-up to those elections. But now that the election's over, it appears that whatever Hunter Biden may be under scrutiny for, financially or in his phrase, his tax affairs, whatever that was, it went dormant around the time of the election according to CNN's reporting. But it appears to have started back up.

On the other end of the legal spectrum, 48 states and territories and the federal government filed coordinated lawsuits today that have the aim basically of breaking up Facebook as an illegal monopoly. Facebook has conducted itself in the public domain in such a way that it has alienated and enraged basically everyone all across the political spectrum except for the trolls and fraudsters and botnet operators that have turned Facebook into a monetized disinformation and extremism gold mine. They love it. Everybody else is concerned.

That said, even without a friend in the world, Facebook is a globe-enveloping, monopolistic behemoth with all the money in the world. And so, we'll see if this antitrust effort against them registers anything more than a flea bite for that giant concern. I mean, it is rare for anything to bring together 48 states and the federal government, particularly this iteration of our federal government. But if anything can do it, it's probably the predatory, gluttonous, civil war, auto-generating, truth-erasing toxicity that is Facebook at 1 Hacker Way.

And while we're on the subject of charming healthy and lovely things, this came back in the news today unexpectedly. In August of this year, right after then-candidate Joe Biden picked California Senator Kamala Harris to be his vice presidential running mate, you might remember this. The once great magazine "Newsweek" inexplicably published a totally self-serious, apparently not satirical column, essay basically, that claimed that Senator Harris was ineligible to be vice president because secretly she wasn't a real U.S. citizen. What? Nice going, "Newsweek."

The argument immediately then spewed out of the mouth of the president of the United States. After "Newsweek" published that, the president immediately started parroting the line as if it had been conveyed to him in the most credible terms. He told reporters, quote, I heard today that she doesn't meet the requirements to be vice president. Oh, he heard this today when he was browsing through "Newsweek." Oh, I see.

Where he heard that from is this article written by this guy, John Eastman, who wrote this up is down, black is white, you know, constitution doesn't exist column, which "Newsweek" published, which claimed that Senator Harris was secretly foreign and therefore not only could she not be vice president, Eastman claimed that she should be stripped of her seat in the United States Senate, too.

This guy Eastman is a legal eagle who goes on right-wing talk radio like the Hugh Hewitt Show and stuff. And in his infinite legal wisdom, he has decided to wage this campaign that says being born in the United States doesn't make you a U.S. citizen. His whole public shtick is if your parents were immigrants, then you're not really American.

Again, this is totally contrary to centuries of lived experiences of what it is to be America. It's also totally contrary to what the plain language is in the Constitution. But it sounds awesome if you're trying to disqualify candidates for public office that you don't like for other reasons, right?

This reasoning would of course mean that maybe Barack Obama was secretly foreign too, and so he wasn't really a legitimate president at all. Where did we hear that from, right? The foremost proponent of that theory during the Obama presidency is the current president of the United States, Donald Trump.

But Eastman advanced this theory for Kamala Harris too because her parents were immigrant even though she was born in Oakland, California.

Now, it should be noted about this guy, and it isn't often enough noted about this guy that Mr. Eastman, the gentleman who advanced this cockamamie theory about Senator Kamala Harris in 2010, which then ran immediately to the White House, and the president started pitching it too. Eastman himself ran for attorney general in California in the year 2010.

He never became attorney general of California. He lost in 2010 in the primary to the guy who ended up losing in the general election to Kamala Harris, who was the attorney general of the state of California. So there may be some sore-loserism going on here, but, you know, I'm sure that didn't have any impact on his thinking whatsoever.

Anyway, the way this worked out is that even President Trump eventually dropped this ridiculous line. Kamala Harris was born in Oakland, California. She's a U.S. citizen. She's not going to get stripped of her Senate seat, and she's eligible to be vice president of the United States.

President Trump floated this, maybe thought he might be able to pursue this along the same lines as he pursued it against President Obama. It didn't float well. He stopped trying to use that against her fairly quickly and never mentioned it again.

The other way this worked out is that "Newsweek" had to apologize for having run this nonsense. They initially tried to defend it but then eventually they had to just say they were sorry. And the whole thing died away.

Kamala Harris was elected vice president of the United States. She will be sworn in soon as vice president of the United States. The quack legal radio commentator guy who tried to get this idea into the bloodstream that Senator Harris is secretly not a citizen, he melted back into obscurity. We'll never hear from that guy again -- until today.

Guess where that guy turned up today. He's the Trump campaign's new lawyer. He's the lawyer who filed the brief today seeking to have the Trump campaign intervene, seeking to have Donald Trump intervene in the Supreme Court lawsuit that we covered here last night. This is the Supreme Court lawsuit brought by the Texas attorney general, which seeks on behalf of the people of Texas to flip the election results in a whole bunch of other states, to throw out the election results in just enough swing states that voted for Joe Biden that Donald Trump should be declared the winner instead of Biden.

The Kamala Harris birther guy, who "Newsweek" magazine had to apologize for, he is now the lawyer representing Donald Trump seeking to join this lawsuit in the United States Supreme Court. President Trump is now telling his supporters that this lawsuit is the big one. This is the one that's going to get him the presidency. This is the one that's going to overturn the election.

This is the case brought by the attorney general of the state of Texas, who really might be doing this because he reportedly, himself, is under FBI investigation for abusing his office in Texas. This whole lawsuit may very well be Ken Paxton's effort to try to get Trump's attention so he can get himself a pardon because he believes he's under FBI investigation.

But this lawsuit is patently, patently insane. This is Texas suing Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan over how those other states conducted their elections. Now, why does Texas have anything to say about that? Excellent question.

Nevertheless, Texas wants the Supreme Court to throw out the election results from all those states and delay the electoral college vote next week indefinitely. Throw out all the Electoral College votes from those four states. That would of course be just enough Electoral College votes thrown out to declare that Joe Biden didn't really win. Election is still a live issue, Trump might get re-elected.

Now, whether or not you're a lawyer, whether or not you follow Supreme Court jurisprudence, this is as dumb as you think it is. Don't over-think it. States don't get to sue other states for how those other states voted. It doesn't work that way.

And I'm not a lawyer. You don't have to take it from me. You could also take it from Texas' Senator Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn, who told reporters about this effort today. Quote, I frankly struggle to understand the legal theory of it. Why would a state, even such a great state as Texas, have a say-so on how other states administer their elections?

Why indeed, Senator Cornyn? Why indeed?

Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney put a finer point on it tonight in his comments to NBC News.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Madness. It's just simply madness, which is the idea of supplanting the vote of the people with partisan legislators is so completely out of our national character that it's simply mad. Of course the president has the right to challenge results in court, to have recounts. But this effort to subvert the vote of the people is dangerous and destructive of the cause of democracy.


MADDOW: Dangerous and destructive to the cause of democracy. It's madness. It's madness. It's mad.

So that's the Texas case brought to the Supreme Court, which President Trump is using the Kamala Harris birther lawyer to get himself involved in that case. And that's crazy enough.

But now, 17 other Republican-controlled states have also joined this lawsuit. Do they all have attorneys general who might need a federal pardon, or are you all just getting on board because this is what we get on board now? Seventeen Republican-controlled states have now joined this effort, alongside Texas, and alongside President Trump, to have the election results thrown out from all the swing states that voted for Biden.

Seventeen states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia. They're all joining this Texas effort to literally just try to get the conservative justices on the Supreme Court to throw out the election results that say Biden won and instead say Trump won.

Their stated reasoning can basically be boiled down to, hmm, something seems fishy to us. Y'all ought to look into this.

As of today, all 50 U.S. states have certified their election results. The certified results from all 50 states show that Joe Biden got 306 electoral votes. He won by a very large, comfortable margin. He only needed 270 electoral votes to win. He got 306. Every state has certified. It's over.

On earth one here, it's over. But now, 18 red states are fully onboard with trying to get the Supreme Court to throw out that result and declare Trump the winner anyway.

You know, over 3,000 Americans died from coronavirus today, in one day. The vaccine approval meeting for our country is tomorrow. Whether or not we have the wherewithal as a country to get together the number of vaccine doses we are going to need since apparently the Trump White House told the vaccine companies we didn't need too many, whether or not we as a country are going to have the wherewithal to run a vaccine administration program that can vaccinate 300-plus million people in the anywhere near the time needed to save hundreds of thousands of American lives that are on the line, that starts now.

That work needs to be done now. That is not something we need to wonder about. That's something we need to start doing.

This vaccine can start going into American arms tomorrow. We've got stuff to do. I mean in Congress, today they decided they would fund the government for one more week because otherwise the government was going to run out of money and shut down, and they can't agree on what they're going to do for new COVID relief if they're going to do anything 11 months into this disaster. Buy us another week. We can't figure out what to do.

Three thousand Americans dead today. The vaccine approval starts likely tomorrow. No COVID relief in how many months now? I mean there is stuff to do. There is stuff to do.

But this is what we're doing instead. Follow the lead of the Kamala Harris birther guy. Eighteen states and the president saying, no, no, no, we're going to try to get this election overturned. Supreme Court will do it. This is what we're working on.

This is what the Republican Party is working on now.

Joining us now is Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Pennsylvania is, of course, one of the states being sued by Texas and 17 other Republican-controlled states that are trying to have Pennsylvania's election results thrown out.

Attorney General Shapiro, I really appreciate you taking the time to join us this evening. Thanks for being here.


MADDOW: I apologize for being a little het up. I'm a little -- I feel some personal emotion.

SHAPIRO: You set it up perfectly.

MADDOW: Let me ask you -- OK. Tell me if I got any of it wrong or if I put the wrong emphasis on any of this.

SHAPIRO: No. I mean I was going to use a more diplomatic phrase like "uniquely unserious" to describe the lawsuit. I think you just went with "dumb and stupid." I'll adopt your terms.

It really is, and it is based on this -- this lawsuit based on debunked tweets and conspiracy theories, lies that haven't held up in court. And now, we find ourselves with the president and some of these attorneys general trying to spin their wheels and thwart the will of the people in at least four states.

MADDOW: You and your fellow attorneys general from Michigan and Wisconsin issued a statement after this lawsuit was filed calling it an insignificant attempt. You said these insignificant attempts to disregard the will of the people in our states mislead the public and tear at the fabric of our Constitution.

And that's exactly where I'm at with this story. I both believe that this is insignificant and frivolous and, forgive me, but sort of dumb and also that it's dangerous because it is making a mockery of the idea of the democratic process be the way that we settle things in this country, and making a mockery of the idea that the courts should be called upon to decide legitimate differences that require judicial intervention rather than just partisan power.

SHAPIRO: You know, Rachel, I would just say they're attempting to make a mockery of it. You know, for the last four years, the president of the United States has attacked every institution, including the courts. But what we have seen throughout this process, a process that began in Pennsylvania before Election Day and has gone on since, is that the courts have held. Federal courts and state courts, justices and judges that were appointed by Republicans and Democrats or elected as Republicans or Democrats. They have abided by the rule of law.

And, you know, law enforcement officials like me have stood up and said, look, we're going to root out any type of voter fraud. We haven't seen any. And we're going to stand up to the attacks on our system. We have weathered that.

It is, of course, sad that we have a president of the United States who is attempting to sow doubt and in some people's minds has succeeded. It is sad that we have this lawsuit filed by the attorney general of Texas.

And I will tell you, Rachel, it's especially sad for me that 17 other attorneys general have gone along with this process. By the way, some attorneys general that I've worked with -- you talked about it a few moments ago -- the Facebook lawsuit that we filed today. And, you know, we've worked constructively in the past.

I don't know, you know, whether to call a surgeon to try and repair the spines of some of these individuals or a psychiatrist to examine their heads. But something's wrong. They are afraid of something, and it is up to us to continue to speak truth, and it is up to the courts to continue to do what they've been doing, which is to follow the law.

And here's what I know to be true. On Monday, the Electoral College will meet, and they will issue 306 votes for Joe Biden, and he will be sworn in as the next president of the United States on January the 20th.

MADDOW: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, I did not expect to be talking to you about this kind of a challenge, or if I was, I thought it would be, you know, one wing nut states trying to do this. But with 18 states onboard, it is just a remarkable turn.

Sir, thank you very much for your time this evening. Keep us apprised.

SHAPIRO: I sure will. Thanks for having me. Stay safe and healthy.

MADDOW: Thank you, and will do.

All right. As a matter of cable news responsibility, I want to prep you for our next block. It is a serious topic, a serious discussion, and it's also about toilets. So, get your giggles out over the commercial break about me talking toilets. You got to get your giggles out now. Me too. Then come back ready for some serious toilet talk.


MADDOW: It was February 27th when the Netherlands found its first case of coronavirus. February 27th. It was a recent traveler in the Netherlands who had just come from Italy. Soon after that first confirmed case, Dutch officials spread out all over the country, conducting widespread testing to try to find and quickly snuff out the virus before it spread too quickly in that country.

But in the Netherlands way back in February, they were not just looking for cases by sticking big, long Q-tips up individual people's noses. They were also looking in the sewers because a person infected with COVID doesn't just shed the virus when they sneeze or when they cough. If you have COVID and then you go to the bathroom, there will also be traces of the virus in your wastewater that you flush down the drain.

And so back at the onset of the pandemic, actually even before they turned up that first confirmed case in that one traveler in the Netherlands. Dutch researchers had already started collecting wastewater samples to see if the virus was already present and silently spreading in their country. Turns out soon after they had their first known confirmed case, they realized through wastewater sampling that the Netherlands had more than just that one person infected.

They started testing the wastewater in remote towns that had no confirmed cases of COVID, where no one -- no one individual had tested positive. But in those remote towns with zero positive cases on record, they found traces of COVID in the sewers. COVID was there. There were people in those towns who were using the sewage system who were infected, but nobody in those towns knew anyone that was infected. They were able to figure out that COVID was spreading up to six days before anybody actually started developing symptoms and went to go get an individual test.

Now, we covered this on the show earlier this year when researchers started doing this kind of wastewater testing here in the U.S. We talked to a Stanford professor who was doing this kind of testing in California. She told us that testing for COVID in wastewater was an easy and pretty cheap way to predict where a COVID outbreak might be lurking just beneath the surface even if individual people with the virus didn't yet know that they had it.

That's the idea behind this kind of testing. You want to catch an outbreak of COVID before things get bad so officials can work on local, targeted measures to try to identify people who have got the virus and stop the spread.

Since COVID spreads quietly and asymptomatically at first in many cases, the first signs of an outbreak might actually show up in the sewage before they pop up at the doctor's office. So this kind of testing can help a community get a jump on mitigation before the virus gets out of control.

That method worked in those remote areas of the Netherlands. They would find a remote town that showed traces of COVID in the sewage system. They would then get testing into that town, find people who were infected and didn't know they were, do contact tracing and try to tamp down those outbreaks before they spread. It worked in those remote towns in the Netherlands. It worked in some cases here too.

This is data collected from a company called Biobot which was testing wastewater in Delaware back in May, in New Castle County, Delaware. See the light blue line? That's the number of confirmed COVID cases in the county, confirmed by traditional testing, people who already had the virus. You see that big spike sort of toward the end of the month back in may 2020.

But look at the dark blue line. The dark blue line is the results of wastewater tests. The concentrated amount of virus they found in the sewers in New Castle County, Delaware. The amount of virus in the wastewater directly tracks with, directly predicted the cases going up in that one Delaware County, predicted the spike a full week before any sick people started getting tested and turning up positive.

I mean, it's kind of, you know, gross to think about testing wastewater. It might even make you laugh to talk about it. It makes me giggle every time I think about it. But also this is super rational, cheap, effective, and it's the only way to sort of see into the future in individual communities.

This kind of testing works. It helps you spot and prepare for and mitigate a COVID outbreak before you even know it's there. It can give you an early warning.

One U.S. city has just found this past week when it turns out an absolute tidal wave is approaching your shores. This kind of testing within the past week in one major U.S. city just revealed a huge, huge, unforeseen new spike in cases bigger than anything they have dealt with in the pandemic thus far.

What did they do with that information in that city now that they know what is coming because they can see it in their wastewater before they can see it in their test results? That story is next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: They call it Deer Island, but it's actually a little peninsula. It's about 185 acres. It sticks out into the inner harbor in Boston harbor in Massachusetts.

And Deer Island sounds sort of pretty and bucolic, but as you can see, what it really is, is a giant industrial plant, specifically it's a giant wastewater treatment plant. Deer Island cleans the water for the entire city of Boston as well as 40 or so communities in the greater Boston area and it is one of the places in the United States that has been doing wastewater testing for COVID throughout the whole pandemic.

And so, you can see on this chart how much virus they have been finding in the wastewater processed at Deer Island since all the way back in June. And you can see the red line is the southern samples. The blue line is northern samples. That's just geographic determinants in terms of these communities around Boston that this is testing.

The trend line not just what we know about how COVID has spread this year. There was that bad peak in the spring and early summer, right, and then there was a little bit of a lull in July and August. Then there was a big uptick in October. That's the kind of red flag you're looking for with this kind of testing, a signal that there is something wrong here. There's cause for concern.

I remember I actually tweeted about that uptick at the time as a kind of heads-up. You know, uh-oh, look at that upsurge in the Boston area. That was October.

Well, look at it now. For the northern and southern areas of Greater Boston, look. The amount of virus in the water is now trending near 600 copies per milliliter. I don't know what that means as an absolute value, but that's up from about 100 copies per milliliter in the spring and it's about a 500 percent increase since the bad surge in late spring.

This data from testing the wastewater, it's a little bit like looking into a crystal ball. It tells us what's coming in the next week or so as the people we know from this data are infected, start to get symptoms, start to test positive, and start to need care. So, I mean, diagnostically, it's kind of neat to know what's coming, right? To know who's infected before they know they're infected.

But epidemiologically, it is a bit terrifying. I mean, what do you do if you are Massachusetts? What do you do if you are the Greater Boston Area if you've got that information now, when you know this tidal wave is about to come crashing down?

Joining us now is Dr. David Hamer. He's a professor of global health and medicine at the Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine. He's been studying these latest figures out of Deer Island.

Dr. Hamer, it's a really pleasure to have you with us tonight. Thanks for making time.


MADDOW: So I'm no expert in this stuff. I'm just a layman who is interested in it like anybody else and a Massachusetts resident who is interested in it personally for that reason too.

Let me just ask you if I've explained any of this wrong or if I'm putting the emphasis on any wrong parts of this?

HAMER: No. I think you've done a great job of explaining it. We've been learning to use wastewater examples going back decades where it's been used to predict cholera outbreaks, for example, by looking at wastewater and see if there's cholera in the wastewater, and then knowing it's circulating in the community before an actual outbreak occurs.

But this is a more modern use with much better technology, and as you stated, you know, the rapid rise in the greater Boston area is extremely worrisome.

MADDOW: What is the right response once you have the benefit of that new technology and that pretty precise data? Once you get a warning like this that this is what's coming, I mean seeing the size of that spike, it's scary, and it tells me what's going to happen in eastern Massachusetts over the next few days and the next couple of weeks. But how do you respond to it? How can you use this in a way that might help?

HAMER: I think -- I think the time to use it as early when it's starting to rise and not letting it go up too far. I think the issue now is we need to intensify control measures. And governor, you know, Charlie Baker has done that just a little bit in the last few days by trying to restrict the size of gatherings and, you know, the number of people in restaurants or occupancy in restaurants.

But we may need to cut down even further. I mean if we compare what we're doing to, say, Montreal in Canada, with similar numbers, everybody ' everybody's at home and can't go out. I mean it's really shut down.

So, there's different levels of intensity and everybody wants to keep the economy open, but right now, we have a pretty high-risk situation, at least in the Boston area, and actually we don't have wastewater collection like this going on in other parts of the state. But the proportions of positive tests in other parts of the state are quite worrisome.

MADDOW: Would you suggest that other parts of the country that have the opportunity to do testing like this and aren't yet doing it -- would you suggest this as a cost-effective public health monitoring tool?

I feel like the advantage to this data -- part of the advantage here is that you don't actually need to be a real expert to understand what this means. Once you can get over sort of the giggle factor for the fact that we're talking about sewage and measuring it that way, I do think that people can look at graphs like we're seeing out of the Greater Boston Area right now and understand, oh, man, look what's coming. It feels like even just for a public awareness, in terms of that sort of a payoff, this is something we ought to be doing more of in this country.

HAMER: No, I agree with that. I mean actually there are a number of different projects both municipal and then at the university level in different parts of the country that have been doing this. Arizona, University of California-San Diego, they've used this to try and identify sort of spots on campus where there's an outbreak or an impending outbreak. Then they can go in and intensify control measures, do more testing, identify who's infected, isolate them, quarantine their contacts and try and limit spread.

So I think it can be done both on a large scale like a city, but even better yet at a smaller scale, a building. Like, for example, if you were to do it -- test sort of the wastewater coming out of a skilled nursing facility, if you did that for every skilled nursing facility, you could identify early an outbreak and come in and try and control it before it ravaged that center, for example. There's many other examples.

MADDOW: Very practical advice, yeah.

Dr. David Hamer, professor of global health and medicine at Boston University, I feel like it's rare when we're able to talk about something that is comprehensible to the average person and practicable and applicable for policymakers in short order. This is one of those things. Thanks for helping us understand and for making it so clear.

HAMER: My pleasure. Good evening. Thanks.

MADDOW: All right. The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifies that the term of each elected president of the United States begins at noon on January 20th of the year following the election.

Democratic consultant Ben Tribbett points out on Twitter tonight that means that as of this hour, as of this hour right now, we are 999 hours away from a new president. But who's counting?

We'll be right back.


MADDOW: All right. I'm not going to forget to tell you this. I keep forgetting.

Without ever really setting out to become a person who writes books, I have now written three of them. The third one is this book, "Bag Man," that is now officially out. It got published yesterday, it's now out there.

This one is not as much of a policy thing as my previous books. The first one was "Drift" about the U.S. military. The second one was called "Blowout" about the oil and gas industry.

This is not that heavy. It's a lot shorter than either of those, for one. It's also sort of more of a true crime romp about Nixon's vice president who was a total crook and got caught, including got caught taking cash bribes in the White House. He got run out of office for it.

The book builds on the podcast that I did on this same subject with the same name, "Bag Man," last year. But here's the thing I need to tell you. If you are interested in this, if by any chance you want to hear me talking about it, I'm not going to talk about it anymore on the TV show, but if you're interested, here's the thing you can do.

There's no book tour because there's a pandemic. I'm doing a grand total of two events that you can sign up for. You basically pay the cost of the book. You get the book shipped to you. But then you can also go to an online event where I'm going to talk about the book. I'm only doing two of them.

The first one is with Magic City Books in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That one as an online event this weekend. That's Sunday night.

And then the second one is with the Streicker Center in New York on Tuesday, a week from yesterday, Tuesday, December 15. That one's going to be me and presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

So I'm not doing a book tour, I'm only doing these two events, December 13, this Sunday, and December 15, this Tuesday.

And I just realized that because I keep putting off talking about this, I have been remiss in not mentioning this before because timing matters, timing-wise, because the book has to be shipped you to, it's not like you turn up and they hand you the book. You kind of need to go ahead now and sign up for one of these if you're interested in order for you to have enough time for the book to get to you on time ahead of the event.

Anyway, I'm sorry I didn't mention this before now, I'm a terrible person. But the 13th and the 15th are the two events. If you want to sign up for either of those, both of which include getting shipped a book, the details are on

OK. Again, I'm sorry I didn't mention it before, I'm terrible at this.

One final thing. This is your last and only reminder that I'm going to a guest on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" tonight to talk about the book among other things. That's at 11:35 p.m. Eastern Time tonight on CBS.

OK, that's done. Enough. Sorry.


MADDOW: As I mentioned at the top of the show, the advisory panel that tells the FDA whether or not they should approve the first coronavirus vaccine in the United States, that advisory board meeting is happening tomorrow. And they're going to make their recommendation to the FDA tomorrow.

Now, that advisory group has already published like a 50-plus page briefing document on the Pfizer vaccine. They say the vaccine is in their estimation safe and effective. They describe it as having only minimal and tolerable side effects. By all accounts it looks like they're likely to recommend to the FDA that the vaccine should be approved. But this is a very big deal.

And this meeting tomorrow, the advisory board that's going to make the decision, it's a public meeting. The presentation of the evidence is public. The expert discussion about it is public. The Q&A about it is public. And ultimately their recommendation to the FDA, they will come to that and vote on it all at a public meeting.

And we're going to have live coverage of that starting here tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Eastern here on MSNBC. It's going to be a big historic thing. You might want to watch that live when it happens.

All right. That does it for us tonight. I'll see you again tomorrow night.


Good evening, Lawrence.


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