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Interview With Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, President Archie Chaisson; Hurricane Ida Aftermath; COVID Deaths Rising. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome on this special holiday edition of CNN NEWSROOM.

On a day meant to honor the labor movement and fair working conditions, America's doctors and nurses are short-staffed, working overtime and begging for help.

About 80 percent of ICU beds across the country are full right now, a third of them with COVID patients. It's gotten so bad in Kentucky, the governor is sending in the National Guard.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): Well, our situation is dire. We are setting case records. We have a record number of Kentuckians in the hospital battling COVID, in the ICU battling for their lives.

We have a record number of families that are praying for their loved one who is on a ventilator and needing that assistance to breathe.


CAMEROTA: New cases are spiking across the country. The seven-day average is 300 percent higher than it was last Labor Day.

This as the White House plan to roll out booster shots may be changing. It was supposed to start on September 20.

Let's bring in CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

So, Elizabeth, what's the update on boosters?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, this rollout may start on September 20 for some Americans, for many Americans, but not necessarily for everyone.

Before I go into details I want to give the bottom line, which is if you have been vaccinated more than, say, I don't know, five, six, seven, eight months ago, there's an excellent chance that you will soon be offered a booster. It might not be the week of September 20. But it will likely be in the weeks to come.

So, at the end of the day, you will be offered a booster most likely. So let's take a look at some of these particulars.

Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that Pfizer looks like they're ready to go for boosters for the week of September 20. They have submitted their data to the FDA, FDA advisers meeting on September 17 to look at it.

Moderna, he said, might be behind by a week or two. So, if you got Moderna, you might not be able to get the booster quite as soon as if you have gotten Pfizer, but they could have data in a few weeks where they will be doing looking at mixing and matching.

If, for example, you got Moderna for your first two shots, let's say, last spring, could you get a Pfizer booster or vice versa? They're going to be looking at data sort of to give more flexibility -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So, Elizabeth, also I keep hearing about this research out of Israel and how U.S. officials are paying close attention. What is it? And what are they finding?

COHEN: That's right.

So, Dr. Fauci and others have talked a lot about what's going on in Israel. And the reason why is that Israel is essentially a Pfizer-only country. And so they have accumulated quite a bit of data that looks at how immunity has waned over time and the need for a booster.

Let's take a listen to Dr. Fauci.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: What we're observing now, not only here in the United States, but in other countries, including Israel and the U.K., that the durability of the protection tends to wane, particularly in the context of the Delta variant.

The good news, as I mentioned a moment ago, is that the boosters really jack up the response very, very high. And we hope that that response would be durable.


COHEN: So Israel started its booster program on July 30. You don't have to be any particular age. Anyone can get it as long as you are five months or more past your second vaccination.

Let's take a look at what Israel when they looked at their Pfizer data. What they found is, when they looked over the summer, those who had been vaccinated in January had more than twice the risk of breakthrough infection compared to those vaccinated in April. They found that the booster, that third shot, reduces the odds of infection 70 to 84 percent.


And in people aged 60 and over, the booster decreased the relative risk of severe disease by more than tenfold. So, Alisyn, we can be sure that, at that FDA advisers meeting on September 17, that folks from the -- that Pfizer folks will be presenting this Israel data to those FDA advisers -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

So, the CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, had a clear message for all of us this holiday weekend. If you're unvaccinated, do not travel, and if you are vaccinated, consider the risks.

So are people listening?

CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean is at Reagan National Airport.

What are you seeing there, Pete?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, a lot of people are still traveling in spite of that CDC warning, but not as much as the airlines had hoped. The TSA says numbers from this weekend are averaging about 85 percent of what they were back in 2019, before the pandemic.

But it could be a while before we see numbers this big again. Airlines say that cancellations are going up, bookings are going down, really the end of this big summer travel surge. And they're putting the blame on the Delta variant.

I asked United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby about this. He says United is seeing an impact from a Delta variant. But he paints a bit of a rosy picture here. He says that, as vaccinations go up, numbers should get back to normal.


SCOTT KIRBY, CEO, UNITED AIRLINES: By the time we get through this wave on the Delta variant, we will have a much higher percentage of the country vaccinated. So I would anticipate the holidays are going to be normal. And I would anticipate, by the time we get to January, the plans to return to office that have now been moved from September will probably happen, and that the country will be back on a path towards normality by the end of the year, beginning of next year.


MUNTEAN: The TSA tells us that it is unlikely that numbers for today will set a pandemic error era travel record, which is so interesting, because it's typically the last day of a long holiday weekend where the numbers are especially high.

Travel experts warned us that it is around this time of year that the numbers begin to slump off a little bit, but they're saying there is no doubt that the Delta variant is having an impact here -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Pete Muntean, thank you.

So, as most schools reopen for fall semester, some will have no school nurse on site. The U.S. is seeing a shortage of school nurses, all while the Delta variant spreads and students under 12 are too young to get vaccinated.

Now some Democratic lawmakers are pushing for legislation to help schools hire more nurses.

CNN health reporter Jacqueline Howard joins us now.

So, how do they plan to do this?

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: What we're seeing, Alisyn, lawmakers are pushing for legislation to direct federal funding to help schools hire more nurses.

But, like you mentioned, Alisyn, this has been an ongoing problem. Years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that its physicians advocate for one school nurse in every school. Today, we have yet to meet that goal.

Based on data from the year 2018, we can estimate that about 39 percent of schools employ full-time nurses. About 35 percent employee part-time nurses, but there's still this 25 percent, Alisyn, of schools that have no nurse at all.

So, what we're seeing now, Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus and Montana Senator Jon Tester have introduced legislation called the NURSE Act. And in a letter, Congressman Titus writes -- quote -- "The NURSE Act would provide federal funding through Department of Education grants to higher school nurses, the first investment of its kind."

So that's what we're seeing. The congresswoman is urging for this bill to be included in the upcoming budget reconciliation package. We will see what happens with that. But, for now, Alisyn, school nurses that I have talked to say that they hope the pandemic really sheds light on this shortage, really raises awareness around this and really opens the public's eyes to the importance of having a school nurse, especially during a health crisis like the pandemic -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, this is a bad time not to have a school nurse.

HOWARD: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: Jacqueline Howard, thank you for that.

HOWARD: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: We're seeing another big difference in COVID from a year ago. More children are testing positive for the virus.

The CDC says cases increased nearly tenfold in those 17 and younger from late June to mid-August, and average hospitalizations for kids with COVID jumped earlier this year and continue to remain high. Doctors are preparing for a busy flu season. And they're already seeing an early wave of children with other respiratory illnesses.


So joining us now is Dr. Susannah Hills. She's a pediatric airway surgeon and the author of a recent CNN op-ed warning of complications in COVID cases that she is personally seeing in children.

Doctor, thanks so much for being here.

So we just showed that graph of the number of cases in kids that has just gone up. I mean, you can see it in the graph, how much -- how exponentially it's gone up. What are you seeing on the ground in your hospital?

DR. SUSANNAH HILLS, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Well, I have seen whole spectrum of how COVID is affecting kids because I'm an airway specialist dealing with a whole range of kids.

So I see some asymptomatic children. I see children come back to me months after having had COVID with symptoms. And I'm called on to take care of kids in the ICU who are on ventilators sometimes.


CAMEROTA: Let me just stop you there because we just don't -- obviously, when this all began, we didn't think that kids would be sick enough to be on ventilators.

HILLS: Right.

CAMEROTA: So the kids that you're seeing on ventilators, how many are you seeing? And are these kids with underlying conditions? Or were these previously healthy kids?

HILLS: Well, we know -- and, in my personal experience, it's been the case that the majority of kids that I have seen get really sick have been kids with other illnesses as well, or comorbid conditions.

But now the difference with this Delta variant is that we're seeing also kids who necessarily -- who may not necessarily have comorbid conditions also end up in the hospital with illness. And we're seeing children too end up in the hospital with COVID and another illness like respiratory syncytial virus, another illness that can affect the airways.

Fortunately, in New York, schools aren't open yet. So we're not seeing the same surge among children that other states where schools have reopened who may not have the same mask measures in place that they may need to keep school safe. We're not seeing the same cases yet.

But I'm really concerned for what we might see in the coming weeks as schools reopen here in New York.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about that, because the general feeling, the conventional wisdom was that kids need to be in school, I mean, for a host of reasons, from their mental health, to obviously their learning.

As what you're seeing, I mean, as an airway specialist, and having to deal with kids, do you think it's time right now for millions of kids who -- they can't be vaccinated, I mean, obviously, through no choice of their own. They are not eligible yet to be vaccinated. Is now the time to send millions of kids back to school?

HILLS: Well, the thing I want people to know, Alisyn, I want people to remember that this virus is preventable. We do have some control over how this pans out, even if kids are back in school.

So we all understand how important schooling is for kids. They do really need to be back in that setting to catch up, to get the kind of development they need. And things like masking, like vaccinating everyone who's eligible, handwashing, keeping kids a little separated, these things, we know, from last year as well, from -- we have plenty of studies from North Carolina and Wisconsin and the CDC study from Georgia that show that these measures will keep kids safe.

So, yes, I think we can send kids back to school. But what we're seeing as schools are reopening in states where mask mandates aren't necessarily in place, where not as many people are vaccinated, we're seeing kids ending up in quarantine.

And we have some control over that.

CAMEROTA: If your child gets COVID or gets a positive test result from COVID, after going to school, what should parents do? Should -- is there anything you should treat them with? I mean, what do you need to be on the lookout for?

HILLS: So, generally speaking, supportive measures are what we recommend.

If your kid is having any symptoms that might suggest COVID or a respiratory illness, please get them tested, because then the family will know and the school can know that, yes, there was an exposure. And then that child should be isolated at home getting well for two weeks, and then testing again, so they can test negative for the virus hopefully down the road.

But supportive measures are what we recommend.

CAMEROTA: But what are those?

HILLS: So, hydration and rest and handwashing of everybody around this child, trying to keep that child separated from other people in the household, all of those things will help keep the virus isolated and help keep it contained.

And that's what we want. We want to contain kids who are positive and try to let them recover and get well with just supportive treatment, with basic measures at home. Kids who are really struggling to breathe, if it seems like they're having labored breathing, if you're worried about how they're doing, if they're spiking, really high fevers, then talk to your pediatrician.

And, of course, we're here in the hospital in emergency rooms for emergencies. But if there are questions, we'd recommend reaching out to your pediatrician first and running it by them and seeing what they recommend too.

CAMEROTA: Very quickly, I remember when my twins were little, they got RSV, and how scary that respiratory virus was, when they got RSV and they had to be on the nebulizer and all that stuff.

Are you -- I understand there might be a spike in RSV also. Are you seeing that?

HILLS: Yes, it's happening early this year. It's happening all across the country, especially in areas where COVID cases are high.

Hospitals are being really stretched thin with resources for children because they're getting spikes of RSV with spikes and COVID. And RSV can be really scary. It's one of those diseases I dread every year as well, because these are some of the sickest kids we're called on to take care of when they're not breathing well.


And they can require all kinds of assistance like nebulizers and breathing machines and ventilators. And so it's really a challenge. And it's hurting a lot of hospital systems to have the RSV spike alongside this COVID spike that's happening now.

CAMEROTA: OK, so my takeaways are handwashing and make sure that all the adults around every kid are vaccinated, because that will cut down on a child's risk.


CAMEROTA: Dr. Hills, thank you very much. We really appreciate you coming in.

HILLS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, out of power and under extreme heat, people in Louisiana are struggling to still pick up the pieces after Hurricane Ida made landfall more than a week ago.

And in New York City, first responders had to literally dive underwater in New York City apartments searching for people who were trapped -- that story ahead.



CAMEROTA: Tomorrow, President Biden will visit to places devastated by the flooding after Hurricane Ida, Manville, New Jersey, and the New York borough of Queens. Mr. Biden approved a major disaster declaration for both states. Ida made landfall eight days ago as a Category 4 hurricane. Since then, more than 60 people have died, and at least 15 of them in Louisiana and Mississippi. All the others were killed by the catastrophic rainfall and flooding in the Northeast.

New York police today released this video of what they were facing when the rain came down. That's an officer who had to brave the possibility of live wires trying to get through a submerged basement in Queens. The police ultimately called in the fire department and found three bodies in there.

In the Southeast, power is still out for at least half-a-million households and businesses. Several Louisiana parishes are saying there will be no power there until September 29.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus us is in New Orleans.

Adrienne, people there are still struggling, as you have shown us, for many days now to find the basics of food and gas and shelter.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, the struggle continues.

This is a holiday. People should be enjoying time with their friends and family. But they're not. Instead, they are here. This is their home away from home.

I'm inside one of eight cooling centers that has been set up across the station. And, here, they provide free meals, water, A.C., charging stations, diapers and other resources that are needed.

Across the state of Louisiana, 13 people have died as a result of Hurricane Ida, four of them from carbon monoxide poisoning. And the Health Department says there was at least one heat-related death. And that is what officials here say they don't want to see any more of, heat-related deaths.

They don't want to see any deaths at all, but especially those ones that are preventable.

I'm joined now with the CEO of the New Orleans Recreation Center, and they run all of these eight cooling stations. Talk to me about what you guys have going on and the big need right now.


Well, we run the eight on cooling stations throughout the city of New Orleans. And what we're saying, that we knew that once the power went out and persons didn't have power, we knew we had to move fast.

So, we open eight centers citywide to make sure that persons can come in and receive water, get out of the hot, the heat, and be able to come in and be safe.

BROADDUS: And they are keeping folks safe. So far, they have service at all of those eight stations.

Thank you for your time. We appreciate you.

At least 14,000 folks across the city, and 2, 500 of them were yesterday. And on top of dealing with the cleanup and trying to find a cool place with food and shelter, the state is getting something else it doesn't need, Alisyn, more rain, at least two to three inches estimated or forecasted for today. And that's already triggered some flash flood warnings.

And you can imagine how difficult that is. Now, the rain might cool things off, but it's still been hot, humid, and sticky. And that heat, with the heat index, it feels on some days like 107 degrees. So this cooling center is a place of relief -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Adrienne Broaddus, thank you for all of your reporting.

Well, Lafourche is one of the Louisiana parishes that officials say we will be out of power for at least another three weeks. Parish leaders also say that Ida destroyed 25 percent of their buildings and another 50 percent were damaged.

On the phone with us now is the Lafourche Parish president, Archie Chaisson.

Mr. Chaisson, thank you very much.

When you hear that you might not have power until the end of this month, I mean, what does that even look like in Lafourche?

ARCHIE CHAISSON, PRESIDENT OF LAFOURCHE PARISH, LOUISIANA: Yes, it's -- Alisyn, thank you for having us.

And I know you guys are in New Orleans doing some live reporting, but every interview I have tried to do, I talk about how this is not a New Orleans storm. I am glad that the city in New Orleans has cooling stations. I have 14,000 people that don't have homes right now, and much less to get power to them by the end of the month.

We are working feverishly with our partners at Entergy to get power to critical infrastructure ports like our hospitals, our water plants, so we can continue to provide potable water. We lost our entire water system during the storm, so we are slowly pressurizing that system back up and have water to just about every part of Lafourche Parish now, a week after the storm.


But we are we are working feverishly, as hard as we can, to get our people what they need to keep their lives going and rebuild our communities.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, I mean, the Herculean task that you have ahead of you is really inconceivable.

But for the 14,000 people that you say who don't have homes, where are they and what do they do without shelter and power until the end of the month?

CHAISSON: A lot of it, you will never find a more resilient people than Cajuns in South Louisiana. A lot of those families are staying with family and friends.

They have brought in R.V.s or other types of housing. We still have about 95 people in our shelter that we have moved to the Ascension Parish Community Center just in our neighboring parish.

But they are doing OK. We are doing everything we can. We have FEMA assets on the ground working on individual assistance, working with their transitional sheltering plan. We have Corps of Engineers on the ground doing blue roofs, getting roofs tarped in, so we can start to dry out some of these homes, so we can access them and have people go back into their homes.

We are also working with the transitional sheltering program to find people who are completely homeless, their homes are destroyed, there's no chance of dewatering them or drying them out, to get them set up in hotels across the state of Louisiana.

CAMEROTA: And what about that. I mean, that -- the 25 percent of buildings in your parish that are fully destroyed, what -- I can't even understand what that means for the future of the folks who lived there.

They go to hotels, I guess, transitionally. But when can they have a home again?

CHAISSON: Yes, we will begin to rebuild them as soon as we can, Alisyn.

Again, we are very resilient down here. We will find places for them. We are working very closely with FEMA to see if the FEMA trailers that everyone talks about are an option, so they can park in their yards to rebuild while they are on site, so they're not standing in a hotel room miles away trying to manage a construction of their home.

But we have a whole lot of assets. Our state and federal delegation have been great partners, along with the governor's office. The president was here, landed in Galliano right here in Lafourche Parish on Thursday to meet with me and neighboring parish presidents from Terrebonne and also Grand Isle and Lafitte.

And he committed every resource he can for FEMA to help us put the place back together as well.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, obviously, I hear you that -- how resilient your folks are, but it's just so taxing on everybody, on everybody physically and emotionally.

I also want to ask you about what happened at that warehouse facility where there were nursing homes in various parishes, including yours, that had to evacuate people. They sent patients to this warehouse facility in Independence. And seven people ended up dying there.

Can you give us an update on what you have learned about what went wrong there?

CHAISSON: That, Alisyn, is a completely tragic event that was senseless and never had to happen.

These nursing home facilities all have emergency plans, so that, when we call mandatory evacuations, and they know they have to leave, they have a safe place to put their residents. In this case, that did not happen. And I, along with the governor and LDH secretary, are completely appalled that we lost any residents and that any of our residents had to live in those type of conditions.

I do know that those seven facilities have had their licenses pulled and there is an investigation being done by the Louisiana Department of Health into the long-term effects of how that happened, why it happened, and what's going to happen to those nursing homes in the future.

CAMEROTA: Archie Chaisson, we are thinking of you. Thank you very much for taking time to give us an update. And, obviously, we will check back with you.

CHAISSON: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Millions of Americans are losing their unemployment benefits this Labor Day, so we will explain what this could mean for the country's economic recovery that, of course, is also so rattled by the Delta variant.