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Thousands of Schools Delay In-Person Learning as Omicron Surges; Prince Andrew's Legal Team Argues to Dismiss Sexual Assault Lawsuit; Florida Surgeon General Signals Change to COVID Testing Approach. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 04, 2022 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: The omicron variant has complicated the return to school for students and parents across the U.S. In New York City, the country's largest school district, classes, they are back in person, but the school district says just about two-thirds of students showed up yesterday. In Chicago, the teachers union votes today on a possible walkout by teachers. They want schools to go remote. About a third of Philadelphia schools will operate virtually this week because of staff shortages. In the Atlanta area, at least five school districts are starting classes online, that includes Clayton County schools.

Joining me is Morcease Beasley, he's the superintendent of that district. Mr. Beasley, thanks for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, the surgeon general said on our network this morning that with mitigation measures, such as masking and ventilation, that it should be safe for students to return to school unless schools have staffing shortages due to positive tests.


So, my first question to you, in your county, how many teachers are out? Do you have staffing shortages?

BEASLEY: Well, you should know that this week, our teachers and employees are working virtually. We are testing all employees to ensure that, of course, when students return face-to-face on Monday, January 10th, that we have, I would hope, the best situation possible relative to safety. So, no staffing shortages as of today.

SCIUTTO: Why start -- why go virtual before you reach that point when you don't have a staff to teach in person?

BEASLEY: Well, a part of our effort is to ensure that we do not contribute to the rise in cases in our county in this area. So, we thought it best to provide all employees an opportunity to test, get those negative tests. Of course, those who test positive would have to quarantine, which allows us to plan more effectively for when students return face to face on January 10th.

SCIUTTO: I understand that thinking. I just understand and I know you went through this, your county went through this during the pandemic, that there are costs as well to going to virtual learning, remote learning, keeping students at home. Students, they end up behind, and a lot of studies have shown that. I wonder, do you think that starting remote will, in effect, punish the students, right, at least academically?

BEASLEY: Well, that's not how we look at it. Our focus here is safety and security. We want to ensure that students have the opportunity to learn without disruption and allowing them to start virtually while we test all of our employees. And we have about 7,500 employees gives us the opportunity to ensure that we are not, as adults, contributing to children getting the virus, which, as you well know, would be very disruptive to their learning.

So, again, it's all about how you look at it. Again, our focus is safety and security, ensuring that our staff, they're safe and ensuring that our students, once they interact with our staff, that they are safe as well. So, it's all in how you look at it.

And I would not say that virtual learning decreases the students from learning the content that they need to learn. It may provide an opportunity for them not to learn as much given the time period. But it's all about how you look at it, Jim.

SCIUTTO: I get it.

BEASLEY: Our focus again is safety.

SCIUTTO: But the surgeon general, they say that with mitigation measures, as I mentioned, that it should be safe for the kids back to school. No one wants to get kids or teachers or their parents sick, but the surgeon general's guidance says that with the mitigation, it should be okay. And I just wonder if you disagree with that guidance.

BEASLEY: Now, we agree with that. We do agree with that. However, we look at our community spread. We work with our health department here in the county. And we make a decision that we believe will help mitigate the spread of the virus while at the same time ensuring that students have the opportunity to learn.

SCIUTTO: Morcease Beasley, we know you have got a lot on your hands there. We wish you and we wish the kids and the teachers the best of luck. Thanks so much for joining us.

BEASLEY: Thank you, Jim.

GOLODRYGA: Well, still to come, Prince Andrew's legal team is trying to convince a court to dismiss a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault. We'll go live to the U.K. with details on the newly released documents that involve Jeffrey Epstein.



GOLODRYGA: A federal judge has dismissed a case against two prison guards accused of falsifying records from the night Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide in 2019. The guards were accused of failing to complete the required prisoner counts during their watch despite claiming they did. They were charged with conspiracy and filing false records. But a judge ordered the charges dropped after a Manhattan prosecutor said the guards completed prosecution agreements they signed last year. They agreed to cooperate with the DOJ review of what happened that night and each completed 100 hours of community service.

SCIUTTO: Another story we're following right now, a New York judge is hearing arguments to dismiss a sexual assault lawsuit against Prince Andrew brought by one of Jeffrey Epstein's accusers. Virginia Giuffre says she was trafficked by Epstein and forced to have sex with the Duke of York when she was just 17 years old.

GOLODRYGA: The prince has denied these claims, but his lawyers say a newly unsealed settlement agreement between Giuffre and Epstein means this case should be thrown out.

CNN's Max Foster has been following the story for us. And, Max, how significant is this settlement agreement to this case?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very significant. Currently, the hearing is going on and the Prince Andrew's attorney is pushing as hard as he can on a whole series of points, as you say, central to today's hearing, and it's a critical hearing, is this 2009 agreement between Giuffre and Epstein, where she received $500,000 in order to not pursue anyone connected to Jeffrey Epstein who could be described as a potential defendant in future.


So, Prince Andrew's team very much feel that this agreement means the case in New York should be thrown out today.

So, the judge is hearing all of those the arguments as we speak, and the judge will make a call on that. So, the case could potentially be thrown out, Prince Andrew could be effectively in the clear or it could continue, potentially to trial, which could start in September and depositions, which could start as well.

One of the other points Prince Andrew's attorneys really pushing the judge on is the specifics on the allegations that Giuffre has made. At the moment, she is only saying she had sex as a teenager with Prince Andrew, but not giving any specific timings or dates. So, Prince Andrew's team want that. The judge says they're not going to get that right now. They have to wait until the discovery stage.

So, we're waiting really to hear what the judge has to say about whether or not this 2009 agreement is relevant, whether it means the current New York case should be thrown out. As you say, Prince Andrew denying all of these allegations, but doing all that he can to just end this trial.

SCIUTTO: Max Foster, thanks so much for covering.

Well, many health experts say that frequent COVID testing is the only way out of this pandemic, but Florida's surgeon general seems to be saying the opposite. Why? That's coming up.

But, first, here's a look at some other events we are watching closely today.



SCIUTTO: Florida's surgeon general is calling for the state to limit who gets COVID-19 tests, saying the state should instead focus on what he calls high-value testing. The proposed shift coincides with an astronomical rise in demand for COVID tests in Florida. Florida overwhelmed in recent weeks by the number of people hoping, and look at those lines there, to get tested.

CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us live from a testing site in Miami. So, Leyla, what's going on here? I mean, is there a health definition to high-value testing? It doesn't seem to be guidance from the CDC and others.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I'll explain it to you or I will use the Florida surgeon general's explanation of this to get a better picture of what he was talking about when he said high-value testing. He used an explanation comparing a grandmother to a third grade or an eight-year-old that's getting weekly testing, saying that there is more priority, more value, in getting a grandmother tested over an eight-year-old or a third grader that is being tested weekly. And he says that he wants to have more prioritization when it comes to testing in the state of Florida.

I should mention I am at one of the busiest testing sites in Miami- Dade County. You can see the lines behind me, lines that are hours long. Yesterday, the mayor of Miami-Dade announced that they broke a record, more than 70,000 tests administered in the state of Florida, but yet the administration is saying that they want to take an approach, that they want to issue guidance soon to prioritize testing in the state of Florida despite what we're seeing in not only the case numbers but also the demand for testing, Jim.

GOLODRYGA: And, Leyla, this is all happening as the governor is calling on the federal government to release more antibody therapies even though there have been reports that these are not be as effective in fighting the omicron variant. But at the same time, he's downplaying that recent increase in demand for test. I know you're expecting to hear from the governor soon. That has been delayed. Do you know why?

SANTIAGO: Well, there was a delay in testing because, quite frankly, there were people there that weren't part of the media that were demanding to speak to the governor. The governor's aides asked those people to leave and we have since seen some of them taken away in handcuffs. We know that one of them was with the north side coalition of Jacksonville, a group that is pushing for more vaccination.

And when they were having a conversation with the governor's aide, the governor's aide was saying, we would like to have a conversation, this is not the place. And they were demanding that they wanted to speak to the governor because they feel not enough is being done when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the state of Florida.

That back and forth caused a delay in the governor's press conference, in which he is expected to talk about the need for more monoclonal antibody testing here in the state of Florida.

Now, he brought that up yesterday, saying that he needs those supplies from the federal government. We did check in with the federal government, and HHS told me in a statement that they have sent an ample supply of the supplies for that type of testing to the state of Florida, in fact, more than other states. And they are urging the leaders to focus not just on early treatment because this treatment does reduce the risk of hospitalization and deaths, but also to focus on prevention like vaccination and the testing you see behind me.


SCIUTTO: Yes, because they work. Leyla Santiago, thanks so much for covering it.

GOLODRYGA: You can still see the long lines of cars waiting to be tested.

And speaking of long lines of cars, we have been following breaking news in Virginia, where drivers have been stuck on a 48-mile stretch of I-95, so more than 19 hours, if you can believe that. Things are now starting to move slowly, but surely. We'll take you there, live.



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Good morning, everyone.