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Schools Grapple With Return To Classes As Omicron Surges; NYC Mayor On Schools Amid COVID Surge: "We're Staying Open"; WAPO: House Democrats Begin Planning For Post-Pelosi Era; Winter Storm Slowing Search For Colorado Wildfire Survivors; Antonio Brown "No Longer A Buc" After Leaving Mid-Game. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 03, 2022 - 14:30   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Millions of students across the country are back in the classroom today after the Christmas break.

Large school districts in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago are reopening doors for in-person learning, saying that the benefits outweigh the risks.

But in Chicago, the teachers union is pushing back. They plan to vote on whether to move to remote learning as cases rise, setting up the possibility of a walkout.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: According to data collected by a tracking company, Burbio (ph), more than 2,000 schools will be closed this week as Omicron surges.

CNN's Athena Jones joins us out in New York. Gabe Cohen is in Washington, D.C.

Gabe, let's start with you.

D.C., the students there will need to submit a negative COVID test to go back to the classroom. But the snowfall, the difficulty to get to a place to get a test, that will cause some delays?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, that's right. And because of the storm, D.C. is pushing everything back a day. But students will still need that negative test.

Now they'll have to have it uploaded to a district Web site by Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. And if they don't hit that deadline, they'll most likely be turned away if they try to come into school Thursday morning.

Now, D.C. has been hit particularly hard by this surge. But this district is just one of so many that are really grappling with this right now.

The CDC is urging schools to stay open and to use tests to do it safely. But some health experts are urging schools to consider moving temporarily to virtual learning. As you mentioned, some of them are already choosing to do that.

And the U.S. education secretary is warning that there are most likely going to be some bumps in the road as the schools reopen. There will probably be staffing shortages as well at schools across country because of this virus.

Now the CDC is offering guidance to parents, which could be useful in the coming days.

One of the keys, they say, is that, if a child shows any symptoms, any signs that they're sick, even if you think it is the flu or it might be a cold, the CDC is urging parents keep your kid out of class and out of activities until you can get them tested.

We asked some health experts about that. Here is what they told us.


DR. GIGI GRONVALL, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: If you test negative, I would test again in the next day.

COHEN: You think, still hold them out of a school for a day and get them tested again?

GRONVALL: I would. Especially if they have a sore throat.

COHEN: What if they can't get a test?

DR. SARAH ASH COMBS, PEDIATRIC EMERGENCY MEDICINE, CHILDREN'S NATIONAL HOSPITAL: The safest thing is probably to either isolate or quarantine in the hope --


COHEN: Now if a kid does test positive, the CDC's new isolation guidance will shorten that amount of time from 10 days to five days. It does apply to kids as well.

But schools may have their own policies and procedures when it comes to kids coming back into the classroom after a positive test. So much of the guidance here is still local.

And so experts are urging parents, if you have a case, or if you have questions, call your kids' pediatrician and call their school -- guys?

CAMEROTA: Yes. It's good guidance for everyone, not just kids. If you have a runny nose or a sore throat, stay home. Now, that's one of the things that we've learned.

Athena, the new mayor of New York City, he seems adamant that he wants to keep schools open. So what is the plan?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn. That is exactly right. Mayor Admas has repeatedly talked about the importance of children being in school, keeping schools open, because he argues that it is the safest place for children to be.

He repeated that this morning on a visit to an elementary school in the Bronx. Here is some of what he had to say.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D-New York City): I know there are questions about staffing. I know there are questions about testing. There's a lot of questions.


But we're going to turn those question marks into an exclamation point, we're staying open. We're going to make sure our children are in safe spaces.


JONES: And so the commitment is there to keep the schools open. The question is, can they do it?

So there's a plan in place, which involves staffing and testing, which you just heard the mayor talk about.

On the testing front, about 1.5 million tests were delivered to every single school across the city over the weekend, in the last few days, to prepare them to be able to test.

And according to the school chancellor, David Banks, if there's a case in school, they'll test every close contact of that case, isolate the positive cases and then keep the rest of the young people in school safely learning. So that is Test to Stay.

When it comes to staffing, there's a COVID incident command center that is meant to give the city real-time updates about staffing issues to help them address those very quickly so they have a pool of substitute teachers standing by and also what they call paraprofessionals.

The mayor further explained, saying there are a lot of people that work for the schools who may be a superintendent or an administrator. They may be someone who has a teaching license.

Those are the kind of people that they will be bringing in, if they need to, should there be serious staffing shortages.

Which, incidentally, is one thing that one of the union leaders said this morning they predict maybe even 20 percent or 30 percent of an absentee rate.

Of course, as that climbs, union officials are concerned that there's not going to be any way to avoid at least some schools closing.

So it's there but it's going to be a challenge.

BLACKWELL: All right. Athena Jones, Gabe Cohen, thank you. House Democrats are preparing for the future of leadership in their

party in Congress. Who will lead in a post-Pelosi era? We have new reporting, next.



BLACKWELL: "The Washington Post" is reporting that after years as the House Democratic leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is expected to step down at the close of this Congress.

CAMEROTA: So, who will take her place? Well, "The Washington Post" story suggests that New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is the current favorite to replace her.

It says Pelosi's departure will likely set off an intense scramble.

Saying, quote, "The maneuvering for power has just begun and fights over who else should be on leadership team could pit the ideological factions of the caucus against each other."

So let's bring in Marianna Sotomayor. She's the congressional reporter for "The Washington Post," who wrote this story on Pelosi.

Marianna, great to have you here.

You got a quote from Congressman Ro Khanna that jumped out at me that I want to read.

He says, quote, "I think we want leadership that bridges some of the different ideological wings of the party that is committed to listening to all of the perspectives."

"That will be capable of helping move the Senate or things that have stalled in the house. And has a bold vision of what we need to achieve for the American public."

"But whoever it is, I hope they would adopt progressive position and also listen to the broad caucus and build consensus."

Who is this mythological creature of which he speaks?

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, there are a lot of members who are asking that same question. You know, they don't -- they aren't looking for Pelosi to leave. Many members want her to stay.

This is if and when she decides to go, which many people think could be at the end of this congressional term, just based on previous promises she had made.

But you know, a lot of members really trying to figure out who would be able to do what she notoriously does best, which is unite the caucus. And even though we have seen during the infrastructure and Build Back

Better process last year on Capitol Hill, where a lot of those divisions, especially between moderates and progressives on the House side were on full display.

Many members still give Pelosi credit for, at the end of the day, delivering and passing both of the bills in a way to keep all of the factions within her caucus together.

They don't know if future leaders, as much as they desperately do want a new generation, could do that.

But some members say, that could be a benefit in some ways, that there isn't just one person who could do it.

Anything that lends itself to more of a team, a team role, not just between this newer generation of leaders but also having more member- to-member discussions, which many members actually realize they were able to do during that Build Back Better process.

They themselves feeling, because they were able, both progressives and moderates, able to hash things out, statements, they were able to really also provide a path forward to make sure that Biden agenda was saved over on the House side.

BLACKWELL: You point out that it is not justified over the ideology of the next leadership team but also the leadership style.

But let me ask you this. You talked about the promise that Speaker Pelosi made at start of, I guess, 2019. But you know what they say about promises -- made to be broken.

The potential that, even in the minority, if Democrats go that direction, the election next year -- this year, goes that direction, that she will go.



BLACKWELL: Or she will stay.

SOTOMAYOR: Right. Exactly. Right now, we don't have a concrete answer in terms of whether she goes or leaves.

So those closest to her tell me that she has always looked at things like this by keeping her decisions close to vest. And she doesn't make them public until the end of an election year.


So we won't likely get a lot of clarity until many months from now.

But even so, members still gearing up, starting -- some of them starting to make calls, trying test the waters, see where they could potentially fit in a new leadership run. CAMEROTA: OK, Marianna Sotomayor, thank you for sharing your


SOTOMAYOR: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Well, first fire and then ice. How a winter storm is slowing the search for survivors after that devastating wildfire in Colorado. Stay with us for that.



CAMEROTA: In Colorado, the search continues for two people still missing after wildfires destroyed nearly a thousand homes in Boulder County.

BLACKWELL: A winter storm is now blanketing that area with snow.

CNN's Rosa Flores joins us now from Boulder County.

Rosa, of course, this now complicates the search for those people who are missing.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, you're absolutely right. And there's also a lot of pain and anguish here because of the nearly 1,000 structures, most of them homes, that have been completely destroyed.

And you really have to think about this as three separate weather events that caused a lot of grief here.

First of all, the damaging winds. There were wind gusts on Thursday of up to 100 miles an hour.

And then after that, the wildfire that ravaged through some of these communities completely destroying complete neighborhoods. Some of these people, tens of thousands, had to evacuate.

Some of them had moments to grab their belongings, put them in their car, and then drive through a hazy inferno to safety, all while seeing fires on either side of the road.

And then they were blasted with eight inches of snow.

Overall, about a thousand structures were destroyed. You can see some of the damage behind me.

The big question, of course, is, what caused all of this?

Now, the sheriff of Boulder County says he doesn't know the cause of the fire, but he does know the origin of the fire.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE PELLE, SHERIFF, BOULDER COUNTY, CO, SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: So that's the point of origin of the fire, is that intersection of Marshall Road and Highway 93 where the big wires are down, laying across there. That's a telecom wire. The fire originated somewhere in that neighborhood.


FLORES: Alisyn and Victor, we have to be careful here because the sheriff is very clear. He says that neighborhood, that area, that's where the fire started. The cause of the fire has not been determined yet.

BLACKWELL: All right. Rosa Flores, for us there in Boulder County, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Now to this. Antonio Brown's dramatic departure in the middle of an NFL game appears to have sealed his fate. The coach says he's no longer a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But some people are calling for compassion. That's next.

BLACKWELL: And there's a lot going on today. Here's what else to watch.



BLACKWELL: Wide Receiver Antonio Brown's time as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer is over after he left the field in the middle of a game.

CAMEROTA: His bizarre exit played out on TV across the country and in front of a stadium full of stunned fans, coaches, and players.

So just moments ago, his now former head coach talked more about this incident and delivered a new message to Brown.

CNN's Andy Scholes joins us now.

Andy, what more do we know?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Well, it appears, guys, there was some sort of disagreement on the field about Brown going back into the game.

But earlier today, head coach, Bruce Arians, said he wasn't aware of the injury that Brown had. And Brown did not voice that he was injured to him.

According to multiple report, the coaching staff asked Brown to go back into the game multiple times but he refused. That's when they told him to just get out.

That's when you saw Brown take his jersey off, take his shirt, glove, throwing them in the stands, waved to the crowd good-bye.

Earlier today, Arians said it was tough how it all went down.


BRUCE ARIANS, HEAD COACH, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: I wish him well. I hope if he needs help, gets some. And -- but I -- it is very hard because I do care about him.


SCHOLES: Now, Tom Brady is the reason Antonio Brown signed with the Buccaneers. And after yesterday's game, listen to Brady. He sounds pretty concerned about his friend.


TOM BRADY, QUARTERBACK, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: I think everybody should find - hopefully, do what they can to help him in ways that he really needs it.

And we all love him. We care about him deeply. You know, we want to see him be at his best. And unfortunately, it won't be with our team.

I think the most important thing about football are the relationships with your friends and teammates. And they go beyond the field.

And, you know, I think everyone should be very compassionate and empathetic toward, you know, some very difficult things that are happening.


SCHOLES: And Brown did not fly back with the team. He has posted on Instagram multiple times since the game. One of the posts saying, "Thanks for the opportunity."


We know, guys, Brown, you know, it's ended badly, every team he has been on, whether that has been the Steelers, the Raiders, the Patriots, and now the Bucs.

A lot of people considered this his last chance. And after what transpired on Sunday, it would be hard to believe another team would give him a chance.