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New York First Responders Struggle to Keep Up; Prioritizing Patients in the U.K.; Long-Term Effects of Distance Learning. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 30, 2020 - 09:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The New York Fire Department struggling to keep up with the huge jump in 911 calls because of coronavirus. The FDNY commissioner says they are expecting more than 6,000 911 emergency calls today alone. Think about that. That is a 50 percent increase and at least 235 FDNY members have tested positive for Covid- 19.

With me now is Lieutenant Anthony Almojera, a paramedic with the New York City Fire Department. He is also vice president of the FDNY EMS Officers Union.

Anthony, we all read about you guys in "The New York Times" yesterday and we're just floored. So thank you for being here.

ANTHONY ALMOJERA, VICE PRESIDENT OF LOCAL 3621, FDNY EMS OFFICERS UNION: Thank you for having us. Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: Look, you've been with the department for 17 years, and this is the most calls you've seen since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. How dire is what you're confronting every single day as you go into these homes?

ALMOJERA: It's extremely dire. As you mentioned, our normal workload is about 4,000. We've cracked 7,000 on quite a few day here recently.

The people that are calling 911, there's a whole swathe of people that are genuinely sick. There's a whole bunch of them that are just anxious and concerned. And we respond to them as well. And then you have the everyday 911 calls. There's still people who are having strokes and heart attacks and what have you.


So it's dire and the members, I've never been more proud of them, were working under extreme duress without running low, dangerously low on the equipment we need, specifically the N-95 mask, amongst other things. So, you know, we're out there, if you call 911, you'll get us, but we're running low on things. HARLOW: Yes. As I understand it, you had to witness something that

brought you to tears for the first time in your 17 years on the job, and you've seen a lot.

ALMOJERA: Yes. All paramedics and EMTs, you know, not only in New York City but nationwide, it's such an unheralded service, which hopefully after all this will change, but, yes, I've seen a lot I've -- in my job. I've delivered babies, done everything else. But this one kind of really touched me in that normally we -- we bring the hospital to you.


ALMOJERA: So when you have a cardiac arrest, you know, we come on scene. And the medications, intubations and everything else we do.

The thing with this is, after we work people up and if we get you back, great, that happens a lot, there's nothing better than that. But when -- when people pass away, the grief component has to transfer. And so we go over to the patient's families and we put their arm around them -- our arm around them. We comfort them. And with this particular case, with a woman who passed away, who was a health care worker, and her husband, who was a health care worker, who went in because he was an essential employee, and came home and he realized that his wife had passed away, and we worked her up and did everything we could, and then afterwards I went to tell him and normally I would put my arm around him but this time around, I had to keep distance and I watched this man's grief come over him, his anger, his sadness. We tried to comfort him from a distance but because it's, there's a high probability that he has it and I have to be concerned for not only my safety but, you know, my crew's safety.


ALMOJERA: And it didn't allow me to -- or the crew as well the capability of consoling the living like we do.


ALMOJERA: And so, for the first time in my 17-year career, I went back inside and to the truck and I cried, you know. It's the -- it's something that most of us have done at one time in our career. We're going to have a call. It was my first time. I've definitely felt sadness and empathy and sympathy for all the people I've treated over the years. But this one really kind of resonated with me and it stuck and it just shows what's going on overall.

HARLOW: Of course. Because you just had to leave eventually, right? There was -- there was nothing more you could do after this man, who was trying to take care of his wife, was called back in to work to take care of others and then she dies.

ALMOJERA: Then she died. You know, he -- he -- he was saying how he struggled with it, how he didn't want to go --

HARLOW: Yes. ALMOJERA: But, you know, his job was like, hey, we need you. You know, just like all the EMS workers, you know, we're -- we're here. We're coming in, you know, nationwide, especially in New York City, the epicenter of it --

HARLOW: Of course.

ALMOJERA: We're coming into work. We're doing 7,000 jobs a day with a workforce of 4,000, 16-hour shifts. Yesterday, if I look a little tired today, it's because I did a 16-hour shift. The biggest fear amongst my members is that we're going to contract it and bring it home to our families.

HARLOW: Yes. Of course. But you can't just call out from work if you're -- if you're healthy, right? I mean the city, the nation is relying on you -- on all of you.

Look, I just want to get a read from you on the warning that -- that you say that you and other gave city officials a while ago?

ALMOJERA: Yes, so as early as January, at stations throughout the fire department, the officers, and some other people started taking it upon themselves to do in our roll calls to tell people, hey, this thing is coming. We have an international city. People are going to come in and possibly have this. We need to be aware of the signs and the symptoms.

And for years, for years the union officials have told this department and this city that EMS is understaffed, it's underfunded. We -- in the last four years we've had 68 percent of our workforce leave. This is unacceptable. And we've told them that, hey, there's a pandemic that's just around the corner. We got lucky in H1N1 and SARS and the Ebola thing. And so when we were telling them about this, that we should ramp up, it was met with a little disregard or, hey, we'll get to it and we'll see where it goes. You have the mayor telling people to still go to the movies.

So this was a mismanaged, but it's been years and years and years of mismanagement. There's been a lot of issues with EMS.


EMS has to be an essential 911 component. And I'll give you what the concerns of the members are. We all signed up for a job where we can get sick and possibly die. We've had -- lost members who have contracted diseases and died. We want to make sure that while we're taking care of the citizens of New York, we're going to be taken care of.


ALMOJERA: Right now EMS in New York City gets 12 sick day a year. The other uniform services get unlimited sick. Think about that, as we're treating sick people. And the other thing is, if I die on this job, which is always a potential, my family only gets three years of my benefits. The other uniformed services get them for life.


ALMOJERA: So EMS has been disregarded for years and it -- I really hope that after all this, in the cities and the nations' time of need, we correct that.

HARLOW: Anthony, I think a whole lot of people are listening to you now. We can't thank you enough for what you're doing. Thank you.

ALMOJERA: We -- and I just want to say to everybody out there, if you call 911, we'll be there.

HARLOW: We know you there. Good luck.

ALMOJERA: Thank you.

HARLOW: Take care of yourself and thank you again.

ALMOJERA: Thank you for having me on.

HARLOW: We'll be right back.



HARLOW: In the United Kingdom, doctors faced with a stunning decision, who has the best chance for survival and who should just be sent home essentially to die?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And we know it's a possibility. Hospitals here are preparing for. In Detroit, that guidance already going out for patients and families.

CNN's chief international correspondent has been following this story.

Clarissa, this is remarkable to see there in the United Kingdom because it has ramped up so quickly, but doctors already facing these kinds of life or death decisions?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. And, you know, these are decisions that doctors have to make all the time in the course of their normal work, but now they're being forced to make them in extremists and in big numbers.

I've been speaking to a top London oncologist who told me they've been asked essentially to categorize their patients from one to six, six being those who have the least chance of survival. Those patients in category six are being told there is no more chemotherapy for you anymore and there is no reason for you to be in the hospital anymore. Of course, the fear is some of these patients are not going to take this sitting down. They are complaining. They want to continue their chemotherapy, even if they have a small chance of survival. And this oncologist told me that they actually fear the potential for legal action in the future.

SCIUTTO: Clarissa, tell us what doctors are saying about the patients that they're encountering there now, who are going through this.

WARD: So basically I've spent the last few days talking to five or six different doctors here in the U.K. and London specifically and the thing that stuck with me the most was all of them underscoring that they're seeing a lot of younger patients. Don't be fooled. This isn't just older patients. And one in particular describing to me how surreal it was to see the most sickly of those younger patients whose oxygen levels are so low they are basically almost dying, and yet they're sitting up in bed and watching TV or reading or looking at their iPads. And all of this underscoring something that I think a lot of us don't really understand, which is, this is not necessarily a death where you gasp or choke for those last breaths. Often the oxygen levels are quickly diminishing, but you are still conscious. One doctor compared it to people who climb Mt. Everest and slowly die, sometimes going to sleep and then never wake up.

Jim. Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Goodness.


Clarissa Ward, thank you for that reporting.

Millions of students out of school, and now fears that the shutdown in terms of education, at least physically being in the school, could really have long-term adverse effects.



SCIUTTO: This next story will hit home with many of you because your kids are probably sitting right next to you right now as you watch this. Tens of millions of children across the country trying to keep up with schoolwork while staying at home during the pandemic. The question is, what does this mean longer term for them? Could the effects, as some experts warn, last years?

HARLOW: Randi Weingarten is here, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Randi, we appreciate what you do and what all -- all of the teachers do for us. They are heroes and we see that more now than ever I think.

Can we talk about what this means for the most underserved populations, because there are those of us with resources and there are things that we can do. But you've got 114,000 New York City public school kids that are considered homeless, 75 percent in New York City public school kids have free or reduced lunch. How are they getting fed right now, let alone learning.

RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: So let me -- let me take a step back and just say, in terms of all of you parents, now, you know, it's -- you know, you're -- you're not homeschooling. Kids are home learning. And we will do the best we can to help, you know, create the structure and the education. And that's happening for 54 of the 57 million kids in the United States of America whose schools are now closed.

What we tried to do, Poppy, initially, was, because this was an agonizing choice initially, was how do you really focus on feeding kids, kids who are vulnerable, making sure that healthcare workers have child care. And then the second piece was trying to figure out the remote learning. Not just online, but the distance and remote learning.

Now, remember, we've done seven or eight months in so many places around the country so that there's been a lot that's been happening already in terms of schools.


WEINGARTEN: And so what we're trying to do is just kind of figure out, how do you sum up the year?


WEINGARTEN: So we have a bunch of different ideas if you want me to go through them.

SCIUTTO: Well, let -- we don't have a whole bunch of time, but I'm just curious, can you -- can you tell parents at home what the effects will be of this? I mean because a lot of these -- yes, it's only a couple months out of the year, but some of these are very key years. You're in eighth grade.


You're about to go into high school. You're finishing up a senior year, you know, et cetera. Each year is different and important in its own way.

WEINGARTEN: So, look, would we have rather not had Covid-19? Of course. But what I think what you're seeing is that teachers around the country are trying to make virtual learning work. It is not nearly as good -- you know, we know that -- as having bricks and mortar schools. But one of the ideas we have proposed is that we figure out a way to cap the year through capstone experiments and project-based learning, like things that you and I did years and years ago. Term projects that kind of capped the year. That would be very effective for graduating seniors, but, frankly, in an age-appropriate way, it will be very effective all throughout the grades.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

WEINGARTEN: So like a high school, you know, so that's the kind of stuff we're proposing. But thousands of teachers are doing lots of stuff, learning different things online all, you know, in the last couple weeks. We had 60,000 teachers learning from our share our lesson website this last week. So we are trying to do everything we can.

SCIUTTO: Well, we know -- and we preach the teachers doing the best they can under these very difficult circumstances.

Randi Weingarten, appreciate you coming on. I know a lot of parents listening, I'm sure, with open ears to your recommendations there.


SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.

WEINGARTEN: Just remember, go -- for parents, they can go to the Share My Lesson website. It's for free. We'll give you lots and lots of tips.

HARLOW: OK. That's helpful.

Randi, thank you so much.


HARLOW: And thanks to all the teachers out there.

We'll be right back.