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Drivers Stranded for Hours on I-95 in Virginia Due to Ice and Snow; Largest U.S. Pediatric Hospital Sees 4X Increase in Hospitalizations; CDC to Update Isolation Guidance Soon; FDA Authorizes Boosters for Ages 12-25. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 04, 2022 - 11:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

We begin with breaking news out of Virginia, where hundreds of drivers have been stranded in their vehicles since yesterday afternoon. It's all happening on I-95 near the town of Fredericksburg. It's about 60 miles outside of D.C.

More than a foot of snow fell in the region on Monday morning. But that seemed to have led to this: multiple accidents. And it also turned this major highway, this interstate, into a parking lot for miles and miles. We're told crews are working at this hour to get things moving once again.

But this has been a dangerous situation and a real nightmare for hundreds of people. Traffic frozen in place for dozens of miles in the middle of winter. I want to bring in first Kristen Powers, a reporter with WJLA in Washington.

Kristen, you have been kind of in the middle of this since early this morning, as you're getting reports of people being stranded.

What's happening right now?

KRISTEN POWERS, WJLA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, I was stuck in it since about 2:00 am. At this point though, there's some people who have been stuck on I-95 for 21 hours and counting. So right now, I actually was just able to -- I call it escape -- VDOT was saying they're letting people off the nearest exit closest to them and that was true. I got off near Woodbridge. I'll turn my camera around and you can see.

Basically on my end, I see people who got off, including a lot of truck drivers. They're now lining those side roads, you know, trying to find a different route. But I also saw trucks getting gas. I saw a lot of gas canisters on the side of trucks there. So that's what's happening here. But back on I-95, I just checked in with a colleague, who is closer to Stafford; Stafford is the area where the majority of the big backlog is happening. And people have been there for 21 hours and counting.

He says the southbound lane is still at a standstill. This is a gridlock that people have been in all night, really. You can only imagine some are running out of gas, so some are turning on and off their cars to preserve that.

So people have run out of gas, food and water. Then there's the urge to need to go to the restroom. Some people haven't been able to do that. So it is quite a mess and VDOT said they're responding. But it's definitely taking time and a lot of people are frustrated here.

BOLDUAN: Understandably so. Tell me more about what you are hearing what the governor has said, and what the Department of Transportation is saying about this. It's one thing to say they're working to get things moving. But it's another thing entirely, when people have been literally stranded in place for 21 hours, of why it's not moving.

POWERS: Yes. We did reach out to Governor Ralph Northam numerous times. We haven't heard back from him. But a few hours ago he did tweet out a statement, saying that his office has been working with VDOT and the corresponding agencies in order to help get people out of this mess and guide them.

He also said people who were stuck would be getting an alert on their phones, letting them know that help is on the way. A few of the people who are stranded, who I have been in contact with, just from social media, they got that alert. I personally never got that alert when I was stuck.

Many also had mentioned coming out and setting up some spaces for people to warm up. But again, I got off so I was not able to see that in action.

We did ask, because a lot of people were asking us and they were inquiring, as they're just stuck, sitting here, if the National Guard would be on hand to help out with this situation, help out in the efforts to get people off I-95, both northbound and southbound.

Because this is happening on both lanes. But the governor did not respond to that question when we did ask that.

BOLDUAN: Well, we'll stay on top of that for sure. A lot of questions to be asked now. Kristen, thank you very much for your reporting from our affiliate, from local affiliate WJLA. I really appreciate it.



BOLDUAN: So for the hundreds of people stuck in the gridlock since Monday afternoon, this turned from inconvenience to a nightmare. Joining me now on the phone are two people, who both spent their nights stranded in their cars, Sean Stafford and Susan Phelan on the phone.

Susan, I think you've just started moving.

And for everyone out there, Susan and I have known each other for years from working on the Hill.

I'm so sorry we're reconnecting this way, Susan, for goodness sake.


BOLDUAN: You've just started moving.

But what are things looking like where you are now?

PHELAN: I'm just north of Quantico now and I'm very excited because the streets are wet, but they're not slushy or icy. Traffic is moving at probably 60 miles an hour. I pulled off to the side to talk on the phone.

But the on the southbound side, it's absolute gridlock again. It's semi truck after semi truck. It's just thousands and thousands not moving, not even rolling an inch.

BOLDUAN: What has the last 24 -- it's a little short of 24 hours for you -- but what has the last day been like?

I mean, you get to sleep in your car.

PHELAN: Yes. Well, there wasn't even a whole lot of sleep. The only benefit was I had a charger cord for my phone; I had heat and I had cell connection and internet, which was a lot more than I had at the house that I left.

I left the house in Fredericksburg to go to a different house in Alexandria, where the power was on. But because I didn't have cell phone or internet connection at the house in Fredericksburg, I wasn't able to see this nightmare I was walking into until I was smack dab in the middle of it. And then it was too late.

BOLDUAN: Oh, my gosh. You have been in the D.C. area for years.

Have you ever seen anything like this before?

PHELAN: I never have. The times I have seen anything close I have just been lucky enough not to be part of it or sitting in the middle of it. But I'm only 50 miles from where I need to be. And it's completely frustrating to have -- I mean, I got on the interstate last night at 8 o'clock.

It's 11 o'clock in the morning now. So I have been -- I could have walked home faster than this, pretty much.

BOLDUAN: I mean, sadly, that's true, except for the fact that it was, you know, got into the 20s last night and would have been even more dangerous for you.


BOLDUAN: Yes. Go ahead, Susan.

PHELAN: That's the scary part is I'm healthy and I could park the car and walk out of this. But there's a lot of people out here, the elderly, the infirm, people who can't walk, people who need medicine. It's not like there are food trucks out here and not even bathrooms. So it can turn from an inconvenience into a crisis pretty quickly. And then from a crisis to a tragedy even faster.

BOLDUAN: I think that's the real concern right now is that, as the hours tick on, we don't know the full extent of how people are doing that are stuck in this.

Sean, Susan was just talking about her experience overnight.

Can you tell us about your experience?

You're trying to make it home to Long Island, New York.

SEAN STAFFORD, STUCK MOTORIST: Yes. My drive was a bit longer. I started in central Florida at 4:00 am on Monday and I got to 95 in Virginia about 5 o'clock after GPS started taking me up some side roads that were then blocked by somewhere I traveled. I couldn't get through a tiny, snowy lane.

And then I spent the night there with the puppy that I was bringing up from Florida and clothes that I was wearing in Florida. So it was a little worrisome to have to keep the heat running and hopefully not run out of gas at the same time.

BOLDUAN: It got down to the 20s overnight.

Were you scared?

STAFFORD: No, I had over half a tank and I have had (INAUDIBLE) had jobs where I've had to sleep in a car overnight (INAUDIBLE). So I wasn't too worried. I had enough water, thankfully; I had packed a bunch before I left.

But my wife was at home with our two kids. She was worried so she didn't sleep at all. I mean, I didn't sleep very much, either, in the car. But not scared but, you know, frustrating and a little worrying at times, yes.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I mean, I think it's important to remind folks, it's not like you're both stuck on a county back road that we all have traveled on many times. I mean, you're on I-95.


BOLDUAN: How many emergency vehicles or even snowplows have you seen through this whole ordeal, Sean?

STAFFORD: I saw a number of snowplows on the southbound side that kept (INAUDIBLE) replowing (ph) area that looked pretty clean. I guess they were just trying to keep it clean, even though it stopped snowing hours ago.

The only other vehicle I saw was a pickup with kind of boxes on it, you know, for tools and whatnot. They drove up to another car near me. I didn't see what they were doing.

But other than that, I didn't see any emergency vehicles until this morning, when a sheriff's car passed me. I did get the two alerts that were mentioned. But those were just messages on my phone. They didn't materialize into anything that I could use, besides a loud noise scaring my dog for no reason.

But other than that, I didn't see a lot of help out there, unfortunately.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Well, I'm -- I'm really happy to hear that you're doing OK, Sean, and that hopefully you'll be on your way. That's the thing we don't know, is how quickly everyone is actually going to be getting on their way. But thank you for coming on.

Susan, thank you very much for jumping on the phone with me. I really appreciate it.

PHELAN: You bet. Anytime.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. Get home safe, please.

Coming up for us, COVID hospitalizations are hitting the highest levels since the Delta surge. Next, we'll take you inside the nation's largest children's hospital that's now reporting record numbers of patients.





BOLDUAN: Now to the growing crisis facing hospitals due to the surging Omicron variant. For the first time in nearly four months, hospitalizations from COVID have surpassed 100,000. And also alarming, the number of children hospitalized is at its highest it's ever been. More than 500 children admitted each day last week.

CNN's Miguel Marquez reports from the country's largest children's hospital, seeing record numbers.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Four- month-old Grayson Perry, his tiny belly rapidly expanding and contracting, one of many children here with COVID-19, struggling to breathe.

MARQUEZ: Are you afraid they're going to have to intubate him? GAYVIELLE GOFF, MOTHER OF COVID-19 PATIENT: Yes. A little bit. It's just really scary. So I just hope that, you know, he's able to get better and go home.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Gayvielle Goff, mom to three, thinks her youngest picked up the virus at a Christmas family gathering. Her only job now, keeping her son in good spirits.

GOFF: I do talk to him in like a little baby voice. I sing to him. I can't sing but he likes it.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): One of nearly 70 children now hospitalized at Texas Children's, a new record high for the nation's largest pediatric hospital. In just the last two weeks, hospitalizations here have increased more than fourfold. Most unvaccinated or not eligible for vaccines from toddlers to teens.

AMY WOODRUFF, MOTHER OF COVID-19 PATIENT: Our COVID journey began -- see, I don't even know my days. Brains are mashed potatoes. We began November 29th. Me and my daughter both tested positive for COVID.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Amy Woodruff's daughter, Halie Mulanax, her 17th birthday the day we visited has been intubated in an induced coma for nearly a month. She also gave birth nearly three weeks ago. She knows none of it.

WOODRUFF: She had a C-section in Amarillo on December 9th to a beautiful little baby girl, 3 pounds, 6 ounces.

MARQUEZ (on camera): And she has not seen yet.

WOODRUFF: She has not seen. And she was COVID negative, praise Jesus.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): From Pampa, Texas, Halie was moved to Amarillo, then Houston for advanced care, still unaware her 3-week-old daughter, Xylah Faye (ph), is 900 miles away in an Amarillo newborn intensive care unit.

MARQUEZ (on camera): What will you tell her when you can speak to her?

WOODRUFF: I don't even want to think about it. That's my little girl being away from her little girl. My heart bleeds for her.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The omicron variant now ripping through the lone star state. Texas Children's preparing for even more sick kids as COVID-19 cases skyrocket.

MARQUEZ (on camera): What is your sense for what the next few weeks are going to hold?

NICOLE LEATHERS, NURSE MANAGER, PEDIATRIC ICU, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: You know, I think the bar for resilience just keeps moving. You think that I don't know how we can do this again and then we keep doing it again. MARQUEZ (voice-over): As Texas Children's readies for a fourth coronavirus wave, already its ER is seeing a spike in kids suffering mild symptoms. Their parents seeking testing, bogging down triage for the seriously ill.

BRENT KAZINY, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: We're seeing a lot of patients present with mild respiratory symptoms, cough, congestion, fever, known COVID exposures, et cetera, that really I think a lot of them are really seeking testing.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Like previous waves, the sickest kids, those needing hospitalization, are having a tough time breathing.

MELANIE KITAGAWA, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, TRANSITIONAL ICU, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: So they're getting a lot of respiratory symptoms as we've been expecting. Pneumonias, needing respiratory support to help them breathe better.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Viral spread expected to intensify in the weeks ahead and even if the omicron variant isn't as severe --

JIM VERSALOVIC, PATHOLOGIST-IN-CHIEF, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: The problem is that with so many children and adults infected, even if the percent -- percent hospitalization rate is lower, we're still -- we could see more children hospitalized over a very short period of time. So that certainly puts a strain on our health care resources.


BOLDUAN: Miguel, thank you so much for that reporting.


BOLDUAN: Sources tell CNN that the CDC will be clarifying its guidance as soon as today on the recommended isolation period for people who test positive for COVID.

The agency has faced real questions over this update for not including a testing component, one that shortened the isolation period from 10 days to five. Joining me is chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Good to see you, Sanjay.

It does sound like the clarification is coming quite soon.

What do you think of this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I think the original problem still here, Kate, is that we don't have enough tests. I think that is fundamentally what is still driving this.

I think it just makes total sense, if we had enough tests, people would get tested before they come out of isolation. Let me show you where things stand now. And as you mentioned, some of this may be clarified soon.

But they basically say vaccinated or unvaccinated, you stay at home at least five days if you have COVID-19. Isolation can end if the symptoms are gone or resolving and then you need to wear a mask around others for five more days.

If we had enough tests, it seems pretty obvious that testing should be a component of determining when someone should come out of isolation.

Now I will say there's different types of tests and I think this has been a source of confusion. The PCR tests, they find the virus no matter what, even in people who have clearly resolved their symptoms or are no longer contagious. They could have a positive PCR test. So it's a very sensitive test.

But the antigen test oftentimes are answering the question people are really asking, which is am I contagious still. That's what you're trying to ask. If I'm positive, I'm contagious; I should stay home. If I'm negative, then I'm not contagious.

That's the value of these antigen tests. But the problem again is we don't have enough of them. So we'll see what the CDC says. But as you're listening to these recommendations, keep in mind that, at one point, we thought we should be doing 20 million to 30 million of these tests a day in this country.

And obviously we're closer to a million or so. So we're still woefully undertesting here.

BOLDUAN: And no clear pathway or kind of like guidelines on when there's going to be all of the testing, an influx of testing capability, like we have been told and promised for quite some time now, would be coming down the pike.

You know, I wanted to ask you about Miguel Marquez's piece, just really hits home once again and puts a face on all of these numbers that we see. Pediatric hospitalizations are at their highest they have ever been, as Miguel showed in that piece. You hear the numbers and, of course, that is concerning.

But I'm wondering, as we're seeing with this surge of Omicron and what we're seeing in the numbers with kids specifically, do you think it should change the way people think about this variant and about life with this virus at this point?

GUPTA: Yes, I really do. I mean, I think that what we have sort of gotten used to thinking, is this is a virus that predominantly affects the elderly, predominantly affects those with underlying conditions. And that's true.

What has changed and most people realize this over the last couple of weeks, Omicron is now the dominant strain in this country and it's really contagious. Things you may have gotten away with in the past, you're not likely to get away with now, because it's that contagious.

And even though children are less likely to develop severe illness, as you heard at the end of Miguel's piece, if you're just talking about a much larger percentage of people overall, who are getting infected, then, even with the lower hospitalization rate, it's still going to be significant.

So we're seeing some of the highest hospitalization rates, as you mentioned, throughout this entire pandemic for children. That's obviously a huge concern. This is flu season on top of it; hospitals are becoming overwhelmed as a result of that. They're not used to this, this significant surge of patients.

On top of that, we have a fairly low vaccination rate still, even among 12 to 15-year-olds. If you look at under 12 specifically, you have vaccination -- unvaccinated rate is around 86 percent. Under 12, 86 percent are unvaccinated.

When you put those two things together, a highly contagious virus, that is causing significant uptick in pediatric hospitalizations, and a significant 86 percent not yet vaccinated, that's a bad mix.

BOLDUAN: Actually to that, what you were just talking about there and that graphic of how -- what a large percentage of unvaccinated, you know, young kids out there, when I saw the news that the FDA was authorizing kids 12-15 could get the booster now, my head went to the graphic, that is great for some kids.

But still, you know, when you look at the younger kids.


BOLDUAN: This is still a large population, even amongst the 12 to 15 that don't even have their first shots.

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, that's the thing. I mean, you know, as much as we're talking about boosters -- and I think the data is becoming increasingly clear on their value -- when you look at the 12 to 15- year-olds, only about half, about 51 percent are fully vaccinated.

Yes, boosters are available for people in this age range now, as of yesterday. But you know, only half the country is really going to qualify for those boosters as well. So you know, we're sort of having the same discussion that we had before vaccines were even available.

We're having that same discussion for certain segments of the population, which is unfortunate. If you look at what's happening overall with cases, hospitalizations, you would think the vaccine wasn't even available, given how high these numbers are.

So vaccine is available. People should get the vaccine. I think the case has been made in terms of the differentiation of likelihood of hospitalizations. We know, overall, cases are way up. Hospitalizations, as a percentage, are lower than what they were, as are deaths.

But again, Kate, if you're starting to talk about, you know, so many people, such an absolute number of people that are going to become infected, hospitalizations are going to continue to go up. And hospitals are already starting to feel those significant surges.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Absolutely. Good to see you, Sanjay. Thank you.

Coming up for us, schools across the country thrown into chaos by exactly what we're talking about, this surge in COVID-19 cases. Some districts are fighting to keep kids in class in the face of all of this. Others are going virtual once again. Detroit just made a big announcement, pushing back in-person classes. We'll take you there next.