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Driers Trapped on Virginia Highway; Houston Study on Omicron; Record-High Hospitalizations of Kids; Dr. Richard Besser is Interviewed about Children with Covid; Rep. Ruben Gallego is Interviewed about January 6th. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 04, 2022 - 09:00   ET




BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga.


A harrowing night for hundreds of drivers on a snow-packed interstate in northern Virginia. They have been stranded for hours. See those pictures there. Some since yesterday afternoon in the extreme cold. These are live pictures.

Authorities are trying to clear a 50-mile stretch of I-95, but drivers are trapped by the snow, disabled vehicles and downed trees as well.

GOLODRYGA: A complete nightmare for so many drivers.

Now, the Virginia Department of Transportation says some vehicles have been stuck since Monday morning after a major snowstorm hit the area. And Virginia Senator Tim Kaine is among those trapped on the interstate. Just moments ago he tweeted this photo behind a tractor trailer saying he started his normally two-hour drive to D.C. yesterday at 1:00 p.m. And 19 hours later, he's still not near the Capitol.

CNN's Pete Muntean has more on this.

And, Pete, as we hear from the senator and countless others who are calling in, and just maddening that they've been there for so many hours, do these drivers know how much longer they're going to be stuck there?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The situation is getting pretty desperate, Brianna. A forty-eight mile shutdown. We know that people have been there, in some cases, for 15 hours. This stretches throughout three counties in northern Virginia, Stafford, Prince William and Caroline County. In fact, some drivers have been there so long that they have run out of gas.

Now, Virginia's department of Transportation is trying to get to them using express and HOV lanes to try and fill up their tanks. A cold and dark reality for some. Thankfully, the sun is out today. And Virginia's governor, Ralph Northam, says that will break up some of the ice.

But just to put this in perspective, about 14 inches of snow fell in Stafford, Virginia, yesterday. And a lot of that turned into ice. In fact, drivers described this being pretty much just a sheet of ice on I-95. Also, anybody who has driven from the D.C. area to the Tidewater, Virginia, Virginia Beach, also down to the Outer Banks, you know this area. It's a pretty trafficy (ph) spot. Now it is completely ice.

Just listen to what drivers have been telling us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roads are ice-covered. I mean we haven't seen a plow truck or a police officer in seven hours.


MUNTEAN: Now, Virginia's governor, Ralph Northam, just tweeted that they're sending an emergency message out to drivers. They're also setting up warming shelters nearby to try and get those drivers to safety who are stuck in cold cars. Also, he's telling all Virginians to avoid I-95 right now.

It really begs the question, though, where is the National Guard in all of this? We know that people have been stuck there for so long, and they want to get out of I-95. And really why this happened in the first place, why it wasn't plowed in the first place or if there was enough done to keep these folks from this dangerous situation.

SCIUTTO: Yes, just imagine being in one of those cars with children.

Pete Muntean, thanks for covering. We will continue to follow that story.

This morning, the other news we're following, the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 is now climbing. For the first time since September, more than 103,000 people in hospitals with coronavirus. That number more than 50 percent higher than just two weeks ago. We should note, though, it's lower than last January's high of more than 140,000.

The CDC says those who are hospitalized, this has been consistent throughout the pandemic, are mostly unvaccinated.

GOLODRYGA: A very important point to note there.

And this morning, new details about a substantial uptick in the number of children hospitalized with Covid. Last week more than 500 children were admitted each day, some of whom are to young to be vaccinated.

Also new this morning, CNN has learned that the CDC is expected to update its guidance on the recommended isolation period imminently after facing pressure to include a testing component. All of this as a new study out of Houston shows that patients infected with omicron are not getting as sick as those who had previous strands of the virus. That is reassuring news indeed.

CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is following all this news and including that out of Houston.

Elizabeth, doctors are comparing -- saying that compared to alpha or delta variants, there have been significantly fewer omicron patients hospitalized. What more are you learning out of this?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that certainly is good news and it's really great that these folks in Houston, they've taken their system and analyzed it to give some insights into the differences between omicron and delta and the other variants. So this is a Houston Methodist, which is a very large healthcare system in Texas. Let's take a look at what they found.

So, they looked at 862 Covid patients from November 27th through December 18th.


Half of them were vaccinated. So that tells you something about breakthrough infections. Ten percent of them had had boosters. And they said when they looked at their rates, the doubling time for omicron was 2.2 days. The rates doubled every 2.2 days. And that's three times faster than the rates for delta.

Now, they also noted that they were having fewer patients hospitalized. This is a system that has urgent care centers and whatnot. So fewer patients were ending up in the hospital. Those that did, fewer of them needed intensive respiratory support and they had a shorter length of stay in the hospital.

Bianna. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much. Very important to look at that broader data.

Well, the nation's largest pediatric hospital also there in Houston, it's seeing firsthand how the omicron variant is fueling a surge among children.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. CNN's Miguel Marquez got a rare look inside Texas Children's Hospital.


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

MARQUEZ (on camera): 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: 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 four-fold, most unvaccinated or not eligible for vaccines, from toddlers to teens.

AMY WOODRUFF, MOTHER OF COVID-19 PATIENT: Our Covid journey began June -- or, 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: Amy Woodruff's daughter, Hailey (ph), 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, three pounds, six ounces, 15 and a half --

MARQUEZ (on camera): Who she has not seen yet?

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

MARQUEZ (voice over): From Pampa (ph), Texas, Haliley (ph) was moved to Amarillo, then Houston, for advanced care, still unaware her three- week-old daughter, Zyla Fay (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 -- 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 OF 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 could 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.

DR. BRENT KAZINY, MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF 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, and are really, I think, a lot of them are really seeking testing.

MARQUEZ: Like previous waves, the sickest kids, those needing hospitalization, are having a tough time breathing.

DR. MELANIE KITAGAWA, MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF 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: Viral spread expected to intensify in the weeks ahead. And even if the omicron variant isn't as severe --

DR. 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.

MARQUEZ: Miguel Marquez, CNN, Houston, Texas.


GOLODRYGA: So difficult to watch those children and families struggling.

And joining us now to discuss this is Dr. Richard Besser, a former acting director of the CDC. He's also the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Also himself a pediatrician.


So, I'm sure that was difficult and very personal for you to watch as well, Dr. Besser.

I was struck by something that the chief pathologist there said to reporters off camera. And he said that, a, the number of pediatric admissions there is just staggering. And, b, that it's too soon to say that omicron is more mild when it comes to children.

Would you agree with that?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: Well, you know, I would say a couple things.

One is with -- with -- even if it is not more severe or is this -- the same severity as delta, the rapid spread of this strain, as the last doctor was saying, is going to put enormous pressure on our healthcare systems and we will see more children in the hospital. Everything we know so far suggests that this is milder. But, you're right, it will take time for us to be able to look at each age range and each group and ensure that what we're seeing in adults, what we're seeing in other countries experience broadly holds up when you look at young children.

The best advice that I have is to try and reduce the chances that your children get Covid by following public health advice.

SCIUTTO: OK, that public health advice, as you know, Dr. Besser, to date, and you hear this -- we heard it again on CNN this morning from the surgeon general, which is, going to school is just fine with mitigation, mask wearing, better ventilation, et cetera.

As you look at this data, do you think that advice holds?

BESSER: Well, you know, I don't think it's fair to say, just fine. And the reason I say that is that everything we do has some risks. What we've learned over the past two years is that there's significant risk keeping children out of school.


BESSER: Risk in terms of not just educational learning, but socialization and mental health and, you know, all kinds of things that are really, really important. And we had -- we had put the big emphasis over these past two years on reducing as much as possible the risk of infection. And with that, I don't think we paid enough attention to the risks to mental health by keeping kids out of school.


BESSER: So, sending your kids to school does involve some risk. And so it's important to look and see, is your school taking this seriously? You know, have they addressed issues of ventilation and social distancing? Are they requiring masks? Are teachers and staff required to be vaccinated? If those things are in place and your child is not at increased risk of severe infection, then, you know, I think being in school learning is best place to be.

If your child is at an age where they're eligible to receive vaccines, I would encourage you, get your questions answered. I think it's a really good idea to get kids vaccinated. Get kids boosted if they're in the age where they can get boosted. But it's not -- you know, it's not fair to say, hey, it's OK and things are going to be fine. There were a million cases, new cases of Covid yesterday, and it's going to continue, I think, to get worse before -- before it gets better.

GOLODRYGA: So, Doctor, on that note, and trying to balance which risk is worth taking, right, whether it's sending your kids to school now, if the proper mitigation is in place, or keeping them at home, you had said that the next six weeks are going to be very difficult for the country and hopefully we'll see a light at the end of the tunnel on the other side. That having been said, we know that many school districts are now

setting dates to reopen a few weeks, perhaps, after the new year. Are these arbitrary dates? I mean, at this point, should schools just focus on mitigation as opposed to delaying for one week?

BESSER: Yes, you know, I think -- I think these are aspirational dates. And I think, unfortunately, a lot of schools that have opened or planning to open are going to have to reconsider. Not because of so much the risk of transmission, but I think it's going to be hard to keep schools properly staffed with teachers and other essential staff to be able to have in person learning.

We see -- you know, before Covid, we would see this every flu season, that certain schools would have to close for a period of time.


BESSER: When 20 percent of teachers and staff got sick or a certain percentage of kids were out. I think that's going to be the case here, that most schools are going to find that they're -- they don't have adequate staffing to be able to keep schools going for a period of time. Hopefully that will be short, and that the same kind of trajectory that we've seen in South Africa with really rapid rise in transmission and then a dramatic fall is what we'll see.


BESSER: And that hopefully it will be a matter of weeks, you know, before this starts to die down.

SCIUTTO: But, Dr. Besser, given the enormous cost of keeping kids home from school, does this and should this factor in to decisions about quarantine times, right? Because one reason the CDC did shorten those quarantine times from 10 to five, right, was to help address staffing shortages, not just in schools, but, you know, the airlines were putting heavy pressure on this during the holidays. Now there's new discussion of adding a testing component after that five-day return.

But should that be central to this decision, right, so that you don't reach a level where you don't have enough teachers to teach the kids in school?


BESSER: Yes, you know, I think it is an important thing to consider. And I think that is part of the reason for -- for shortening from ten to five.

The other reason is a recognition that with each day after five, your risk of transmitting goes down. You know, it doesn't go to zero, but it goes down. And that was factored in there.

We need to be able to get people to work as quickly as possible. A lot of people in our country, you know, as you know, don't have sick leave, don't have medical leave.


BESSER: If they're out for ten days, people are going to be losing jobs. They're not going to be getting those paychecks. You know, the Build Back Better bill did not pass, which would have guaranteed everyone sick leave, family medical leave. We're one of the only wealthy nations that doesn't ensure that.

So, it's not -- it's not just a matter of infection control when you're talking about ten days of isolation versus five. For many people it's absolutely not feasible to do ten. Having it at five and recognizing that there will be some people who continue to transmit, that's something you may need to accept, especially when disease transmission is so rampant right now.


BESSER: How much will you really be able to reduce transmission by extending from five days of isolation to ten?

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean it's that bigger question about risk management versus risk aversion or elimination.

Dr. Richard Besser, always good to have you on. Thanks so much.

BESSER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, new documents reveal a detailed plan Rudy Giuliani and his team had to target the homes of elected officials in the run-up to January 6th. I'll get reaction from Congressman Ruben Gallego who helped protect his colleagues as the chamber was breached that day.

GOLODRYGA: Plus, schools in Los Angeles announce they'll require a negative Covid test from all students and staff before they come back to class next week. The president of the school board joins us live.

And, guilty on four counts. We'll break down the split verdict for disgraced Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes.



GOLODRYGA: As the one year anniversary of the deadly U.S. Capitol attack approaches, let's take a look at where we were one year ago today, January 4, 2021.

Just two days before the insurrection, the U.S. Capitol Police chief received an expedited delivery of over 100 helmets in anticipation of the protests and officially approached the sergeant at arms to request National Guard support. The response, hold off. Instead, the National Guard was told to be ready to move quickly when and if they were requested.

SCIUTTO: At the White House, a final pitch to then Vice President Mike Pence to use the electoral certification process to instead falsely declare Trump the winner. According to a book by "Washington Post" journalist Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Trump hosted Pence and right-wing lawyer John Eastman inside the Oval Office, where Eastman pitched a dubious scheme. Eastman later told CNN he only wanted to delay certification.

And that same day, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was arrest and later charged for burning a church's Black Lives Matter banner and bringing high capacity rifle magazines to D.C.

That was January 4th, a year ago.

Joining me now to discuss as we approach that anniversary, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona. He sits on the Armed Services Committee. He's also chairman of Bold PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (ph).

Congressman, thanks so much for having us -- for joining us this morning.

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): Good morning.

SCIUTTO: So we're a year minus two days out. Has the country addressed the root causes of January 6th to prevent a similar attack in the future?

GALLEGO: Yes, and no. Look, I don't think the attack you're going to see in the future is going to be by a bunch of, you know, angry fat men trying to get into Congress. I think the actual attack is going to happen in the legislatures, in the country recorder's office, in the board of elections. There's an ongoing slow coup by a bunch of Brooks Brothers dressed politicians that are going to try to basically change the -- who counts the votes for the elections coming up in 2022 and 2024.

So, in some regards, yes, I think we're more resilient in case of a physical coup attack, but the same time the ongoing political coup is occurring.

Now, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't be holding more people accountable. I think Merrick Garland has been extremely weak. And I think there should be a lot more of the organizers of January 6th that should be arrested by now.

SCIUTTO: To your point, we're learning more details about just how far that plan to overturn the election went. Former Trump Adviser Peter Navarro, he's telling -- he told "Rolling Stone" they had a plan that basically involved delaying and delaying the certification of the Electoral College votes for weeks, perhaps, to then give the chance for state legislatures to overturn those votes at the state level.

In your view, does such a plot amount to a criminal conspiracy? We've seen more than 700 of the rioters charged, but none of the folks who encouraged those rioters, who were involved in such planning.

GALLEGO: A certain -- to a certain agree, yes. I think some of them are doing criminal acts, especially interference of Congress in terms of their duties. And I think we have to clearly look at that. And this is why we should have an active attorney general that can separate those that were doing political work from actual work helping the insurrection and/or the coup plotters.

The problem that we have right now is that we have a very obstructionist Republican Party that should be part of helping us decide how to save democracy, instead of trying to cover up for their crimes.


And you have, again, an attorney general who is, you know, feckless and has not been helpful in terms of preserving our democracy.

SCIUTTO: You focus on the attorney general in terms of not pursuing criminal cases. But it's been a year where Democrats hold the presidency, the House and the Senate and it's still not come to any sort of agreement on protecting voting rights, which I know you have spoken out in support of before.

Has that been a mistake by President Biden and Democratic leaders not to make that the priority rather than, for instance, the Build Back Better Act?

GALLEGO: Well, I think the mistake is for us not to be doing both at the same time. I don't know, you know, how the Senate works that way, but I -- you know, you can do two things at one time. You have 100 senators. You have multiple committees. You could be doing both at the same time, and they didn't.

I'm glad we're finally changing tune and we're focusing on the real infrastructure of democracy. But, look, you know, it's one thing for us to focus on it, but really Manchin and Sinema have to step up. They have to understand that our democracy is really at risk. This is not the normal politics of -- for -- of many years. And, by the way, that goes to everybody. You know, everybody that's involved in politics, whether it's journalists, the business community, social society. The fact that we're treating what happened on January 6th as just another, you know, game, as in who's winning the argument on January 6th is extremely disturbing. The people that are losing is the American public.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about another topic because you led a group of lawmakers that visited Ukraine recently as Russia mounts forces on the border and as U.S. intelligence shows they may very well invade further into that country.

Do you believe Biden is doing enough right now to deter Putin? And, if not, what does he need to be doing today?

GALLEGO: I think he's doing enough, I think there could be more. And I certainly think that more should be us providing more lethal aide, lethal defensive aide to Ukraine, making sure they have the javelins, making sure they have potentially the stingers they need, the training, the -- that Ukraine needs. And also continuing the good work they're doing I've seen so far in terms of unifying our European allies on to one message, there will be consequences if Russia takes one inch of Ukraine soil.


GALLEGO: And that's the thing that we need to understand. Russia, at this point, may not make -- do a full invasion of Ukraine, but to save face, because Putin is a very small man, he'll try to do like a very incremental, you know, invasion to gain what he would say is safe space, or a buffer. And that should be treated just as bad as the rest of it.

SCIUTTO: The fact is you and other Democrats and Republicans and the Ukraine is, they've been asking for that lethal -- additional lethal assistance for weeks now. And the Biden administration has not just held back on that, it's held back -- I mean it's taken off the table more damaging economic sanctions that would go after Russia's energy sector, really hit Russia's economy where it hurts because of fears about its effect on the European economy and international oil markets.

I just wonder, in your view, does Putin judge that as weakness from the U.S.?

GALLEGO: Well, Putin judges anything short of capitulation as weakness. And at some point we have to keep our European allies. So we have to compromise on energy sector issues, I think as we have to, although I'm a big proponent of making sure we stop Nord Stream 2 from happening.

But, again, a unified European alliance and -- Atlantic European alliance is going to be really important. But, you're right, there could be more being done. I understand that there are some worries about escalation. I disagree with the Biden administration on that. I think the, you know, the Russians will come up with any excuses to, you know, create drama. And I think we should be fully, you know, fully weaponizing Ukraine so they can defend itself.


GALLEGO: And I think that's the best way to stop Russia.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Ruben Gallego, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

GALLEGO: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: And still ahead, a possible gold mine for the DOJ when it comes to intel on Russia. How a Russian businessman being arraigned here in the U.S. could have valuable information on election interference.

SCIUTTO: And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stock futures higher once again after the Dow and S&P closed at new record highs on Monday. It seems like a record every day. Airlines and cruise operators rebounding despite the rapid spread of omicron. Apple shares were up after the company briefly became the first ever to achieve a $3 trillion, you heard that right, $3 trillion market capitalization. Today, investors will be watching two key reports on the labor market, also manufacturing.