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Virginia Drivers Stranded For Hours; CDC Updating COVID Guidance?. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 04, 2022 - 13:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Good Tuesday afternoon. I'm Erica Hill, in for Ana Cabrera today.

It is another week, potentially another shift in CDC guidance. And that could leave many Americans scratching their heads wondering just how exactly they're supposed to approach this latest coronavirus wave.

Just a week ago, the isolation period for people infected with COVID was shortened from 10 days to five. So, what could potentially be changing now?

Here's Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy this morning on CNN.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Guidance on shortening the isolation period was one that the CDC issued last week. They have certainly received feedback and questions about the role of testing in shortening that quarantine period.

And they're actually working right now on issuing a clarification on that. I would expect that any day now.


HILL: So stand by for some sort of clarification potentially involving testing.

Meantime, where do we stand as a country? Well, Omicron now accounts for 95 percent of new cases in the U.S. in the last week. And while those infections do appear in most cases to be milder, we know the nation's hospital system is buckling.

Right now the U.S. is averaging nearly half-a-million new cases per day. But COVID hospitalizations are a level not seen since September, back when Delta was dominant. ICUs are once again flooded, more than three-quarters full nationwide, COVID patients accounting for more than 25 percent of those in the ICU.

And perhaps most alarming of all, the hospitalizations among children are higher than ever before. We know the vast majority of the nation's schools are pressing ahead with in person classes, according to data from Burbio, which tracks that. And if all of this has your head spinning, wondering again what you're

supposed to do, well, you're not alone. We do know too the next hour President Biden will be meeting with his COVID task force.

Let's get straight to CNN's Kaitlan Collins was live at the White House.

So, Kaitlan, will we be hearing from the president? Will we be hearing any more perhaps about this potential change in CDC guidance?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We will be hearing from President Biden, Erica.

We know he's going to make brief remarks. We don't know yet if that's going to be reflective of what this new CDC guidance is going to be. And we should note that the CDC guidance, we're expecting an update to it, not a change, imminently.

It could happen as soon as today, based on what sources are telling us. But the reason it's not going to be as significant change is, you're not going to see them come out and change drastically from what that recommendation was last week, which, as you just noted, was cutting that isolation period in half from 10 days to five days.

But the criticism that the CDC faced over that new guidance was that they did not require or recommend a rapid test at the end of those five days. And a lot of outside medical experts said they believed that they should have done, that there should have been a testing component to this.

And I think what's adding to the confusion here is how the CDC is explaining this guidance. And people are left wondering, what is it that they should be doing if they are isolating, if they have tested positive, and what that should look like?

And the CDC director was on CBS last night. And I want you, Erica, to listen to how she explained it last night.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: So if you have access to a test, and if you want to do a test at day five, and if your symptoms are gone, and you're feeling well, then go ahead and do that test.

But here's what -- how I would interpret that test. If it's positive, stay home for another five days. If it's negative, I would say you still really need to wear a mask. You still may have some transmissibility ahead of you. You still should probably not visit grandma. You shouldn't get on an airplane. And you should still be pretty careful when you're with other people by wearing a mask all the time.


COLLINS: Now, this is incredibly notable, I think because where she says, if you take a positive test after those five days and you test positive, you should stay home another five days.

That is not something we heard from the CDC or from other top government health officials last week, when we were asking them about this guidance. And, actually, Dr. Walensky told me when I interviewed her on CNN last week, Erica, that we would not change our guidance based on the result of a rapid test, whether it's positive or whether it's negative.

But, there, when it comes to what she is saying you should do if you do happen to take a test while you are isolating is stay home if it's still positive on day five. That's pretty notable. She's also saying that if you continue to go out in the world after day five and you're wearing a mask, she's saying she would not necessarily recommend going to visit a grandparent, getting on an airplane.


That's a pretty big qualifier that would have been really important information last week, when all of this guidance came out. And, of course, Erica, the problem at the top of all of this is the fact that it's very difficult to access those rapid tests right now. It's difficult to access any kind of test, to schedule an appointment, or any of that matter, in several places in the country.

And so that could be something we hear from President Biden today, because, of course, they have got that plan they say that is in the works to distribute half-a-billion tests if you sign up online. That Web site is not yet live. We don't have a lot of details yet from the administration.

And we are still waiting on those.

HILL: Yes, not a lot of details, but a whole lot of questions. And I'm so glad you did flag that sound, Kaitlan, and it's so important when we look back to what we heard, as you point out, in your interview with Dr. Walensky. This is why Americans have so many questions.

Kaitlan, thank you.

Well, as we have been talking about, we're looking at the numbers here too, which are so important, specifically hospitalizations. And when we talk about pediatric hospitalizations, they're now at an unprecedented level across the country.

CNN's Miguel Marquez went inside the nation's largest children's hospital, which is currently experiencing a record surge. And I want to warn you that what he found was heartbreaking.


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

(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 he's able to get better, 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 fourfold, most unvaccinated or not eligible for vaccines, from toddlers to teens.

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

MARQUEZ: Amy Woodruff's daughter, Haley (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 9 to a beautiful little baby girl, three pounds, six ounces.

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

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

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

(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.

(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 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 E.R. 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, 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 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, 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, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: The problem is that with so many children and adults infected, even if the 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.



HILL: For more, I'm joined by Texas emergency medicine physician and medical director of the McNair Campus Emergency Department at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Richina Bicette McCain.

Always good to have you with us, Doctor. Those scenes are just heartbreaking, those children and the parents that we heard from, understandably. You're also in Houston.

Are you and your colleagues seeing a similar situation with children?


What's being reported across the country is similar to what we're seeing here in Texas. The American Academy of Pediatrics stated that over 325,000 children were diagnosed with COVID last week alone. Those are record-breaking numbers.

You just aired the segment about Texas Children's Hospital. Their hospitalization rates have increased four times over the last two weeks. And a majority of the children that are being admitted are unvaccinated either by choice of their parents or because they're not eligible for vaccines.

The other thing that I want people to remember about children who contract COVID, if they are sick enough to become hospitalized, there are not the same approved treatments for children as there are for adults. The oral antiviral medications and the monoclonal antibody treatments are only approved for people over 12 years of age.

So these young children are really struggling.

HILL: It's so important.

I'm just getting a note in my ear too from our producers. I believe our hospitalizations in this country have now surpassed the peak of Delta, which is a really important note. Again, we keep going back to hospitalizations, because those are the most serious cases, as we know.

There's a lot to hit on with you today too. So I also do want to get your take on this CDC guidance, this additional guidance that we are expecting, which is likely to add a negative test suggestion on day five, before ending isolation.

What I think it's tough is what my colleague Kaitlan Collins just played for us is Dr. Walensky last night saying, even if you have a negative test on day five, you're not really in the clear. You may still be transmitting the disease. You should be really careful. Don't go visit your grandmother.

Do you believe the isolation period should not have been shortened?

BICETTE MCCAIN: I will tell you, Erica, the World Health Organization has not changed their recommendations. And they are still recommending a 10-day isolation period if you test positive for COVID.

If we include a suggestion of testing on day five, that language is not strong enough. It should be a requirement. There's too much hedging going on. As Dr. Walensky mentioned, the tests are imperfect, yes, but an imperfect test is better than no test at all.

HILL: The tests are imperfect. They're also really difficult to get in a number of places, as we know.

Do you think that the CDC's decision here on shortening that isolation period was made based on the science?

BICETTE MCCAIN: Well, it's hard to say, because, from what I read, there was a small case study of a family in Nebraska that had a breakout. That was only six people, and then another small case study of a Christmas party overseas that included just under 200 people.

So we essentially changed recommendations based on a subset of about 250 people. That's not enough to make a generalization for millions in this country.

I also know that there have been comments from Dr. Fauci that we don't want society to come to a halt, we want people to get back to work. And while that's true, if we're sending people back to work while they're still ill and transmitting the virus, that just leads to further staffing shortages down the road.

So we really have to weigh if we're doing this out of necessity for industry or out of true public health recommendations.

HILL: Which raises another question, and that is schools, right? A lot of educators -- my neighbor across the street is a teacher. I was talking to her about this. She says: I'm an essential worker. I would have to go back after five days.

She wants to be back in the classroom. We know that there are a number of educators who do. A number of teachers unions were advocating, however, for a return to remote learning. That may not be the answer for a number of parents.

From a health perspective, when you look at -- and I want to say full health here, including mental health, when you look at where we are as a country, when you look at the mitigation measures that are in place, what would you prescribe when it comes to returning to school? Should kids be there in person?

BICETTE MCCAIN: Erica, undoubtedly, children need to be in school for in person learning.

There are a variety of benefits of why children need to be in school. But as much as we speak about the benefits of children being in school, we also need to speak about the risk that in person learning poses, not only to the children, but to the adults, the teachers and the staff that are teaching these kids.

There has to be some kind of balance in place. What is going on in this country today is not what was going on in this country before children left school for winter break. And we have got to make changes to accommodate the ever-changing landscape.

HILL: Really quickly, before I let you go, what are those changes? What needs to be in place? Is it as simple as vaccinations, good masks, KN95s maybe, and adequate testing access? Would that be enough?

BICETTE MCCAIN: There's no one answer. There are layers of protection that need to be in place. We need to improve testing access. Children should test negative before they return to school.

We need to improve access to masks. Don't let children come to school with cloth masks. Give them high-quality masks. We need to ensure that there is high circulation, high ventilation in classrooms, ensure that there is social distancing and classrooms, if we can make it possible.


There are layers that need to be in place. There is no one answer fits all right here.

HILL: Dr. Richina Bicette McCain, always appreciate your insight and your expertise. Thank you. BICETTE MCCAIN: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: Well, there are traffic jams, and then there is this, thousands of drivers stuck on a snowy, icy I-95 in Virginia since yesterday, among them, a U.S. senator.

We're going to speak with someone stuck in that mess. We will ask him how it's going.

Plus, breaking news, just moments ago, the Albany district attorney declining to prosecute former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on accusations of forcible touching.

Those developments ahead. Stay with us.



HILL: I mean, the pictures, you just can't turn away, thousands of drivers stranded on I-95 in Virginia's Fredericksburg area, and they're begging, a lot of these folks just begging for some help.

Transportation officials say multiple accidents are blocking the 48- mile stretch, this, of course, on the heels of that severe winter storm yesterday. Some motorists say they have been stuck now for more than 24 hours. They're not just stuck there. They're stuck in freezing temperatures. Most of them don't have food, water. Some didn't even have warm clothes in the car.


JENNIFER TRAVIS, STUCK ON I-95: We don't have winter jackets with us. We have light jackets because we were in Florida. So, just doing the best we can, but also trying to conserve our gas, because we didn't know when we were going to get home.


HILL: Democratic Senator Tim Kaine tweeted: "I started my normal two- hour drive to D.C. at 1p yesterday; 19 hours later, I'm still not near the Capitol."

CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns joining us live.

So, how's it looking for the motorists there who are stranded? When's the help arriving, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know what? To state the obvious, this is very slow-going.

And let me just give you an idea of where I am. This is Dumfries, Virginia. It's in the zone. And if you take a look down here, that will show you what the problem is. The Department of Transportation here in the state, as well as the state police, held a news conference on the telephone just a little while ago. And they explained that a lot of these vehicles down here, some are

cars. Many are semis. Some of them have run out of gas. Some are disabled. There have also been accidents. And what they have to do is, they have to get the vehicles off the road that can actually drive and then come in, again, with tow trucks to try to move the ones that are disabled.

If we can come right back here, I can show you up here on the overpass the other thing that's going on is people trying to get southbound on Interstate 95 are stuck out here on the road.

I talked to truck drivers up and down the road here who have been here for hours an hour, some since last night, because they need to go to places like North Carolina or Atlanta or what have you. And it's all down there.

And the stories are incredible. The first person I talked to here was a paramedic who told me he was in an ambulance last night with a patient who needed to go to the hospital that got stuck out here for eight hours until they were able to flag down a police officer, who was able to take that patient, put that patient in the car with another paramedic, and drive to the nearest hospital.

I also talked to a truck driver just a little while ago extremely frustrated after a night of misery on Interstate 95. Listen.


THERESA SYKES, TRUCK DRIVER: 7-Eleven is closed. There's no fuel. You know, my heart go out to the young lady got her 2-year-old baby. She has no food.

How could they have -- my people from St. Louis called me and told me what was about to happen.


JOHNS: So the authorities are saying they're doing the best they can. But, again, Erica, it's very-slow going here in the DMV -- back to you.

HILL: Yes, a quick question for you, Joe. They say they're doing the best they can. Understandably, there's a lot to work with here if we're talking about 48 miles.

But in terms of preparation, was that addressed, knowing that this storm was coming?

JOHNS: The governor was hit with that question. And he defended himself by saying this was an extraordinary and very unusual storm of the type that they haven't seen in years and years.

And I can tell you, here in this area, there's a lot more snow than there was, say, up north in Washington, D.C. And first we had rain. Then we had snow. Then, overnight, it all froze, creating a very difficult situation. But you're right. The authorities sort of have to be taken to task

over how well they prepared for this storm, since they did know it was coming, Erica.

HILL: And really quickly, do we know how long it's going to take to get that stretch cleared out, especially when we're talking about semis that have run out of gas?

JOHNS: Right.

That is really not clear. And I think the authorities were hit with questions to that effect today. And it's -- until they can get the vehicles that can move out of the way, that's when they're going to be able to determine how many have to be moved, especially those semis that need very big tow trucks, if you will.

HILL: Yes, absolutely.

Joe, appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, among those folks who was able to get moving just a short time ago, motorist Issac Arcos. He just was able to start getting out of this mess. He's joining us now, pulled over safely to talk to us.

Thankfully, you pulled over. You're not forcibly stopped at this point.

These are some of the pictures that we're showing on the screen. You took these pictures. This was near Ladysmith, Virginia, earlier today.


So, just give us a sense. I mean, you ended up -- you were only an hour, as I understand it, from your destination, when, all of a sudden, you get stuck in this mess. You were there for 13, 14 hours. Were you worried at some point that you were going to run out of gas?


Everything was going smoothly until I reached about 40 -- like 48 miles from my destination. And when I reached that stopping point, I had about 110 miles until I was empty. So that was more than enough to get to where I needed to be. But since I was at a stop still, though, and it was cold, I had to conserve my gas to be able to know stay warm.

So I turned off my car every maybe hour and would turn it back on every 15 minutes that I could, have it on, conserving the heat and keeping warm. But it was very, very, very hard to stay warm, especially when it was about 20 degrees outside.

HILL: Yes. Yes, absolutely. I mean, I see you have got a hat there. You're lucky.


HILL: CNN was speaking to some other people who only had light jackets. They were coming back from Florida.

Did you have -- I mean, did you have food with you? Did you have water? There are all these things, right, that all of a sudden you realize you really need when you're stuck in your car.


No, I unfortunately didn't. I did start reaching out to other people on Twitter, of all places, and truck drivers were actually reaching out to other drivers as well and saying, hey, if you're hungry, if you're cold, if you're thirsty, reach out to a truck driver. We always have snacks. We always have extra blankets. We always have extra drinks.


ARCOS: And, honestly, the truck drivers were the real heroes there.

HILL: So, you connected with some of those truck drivers, you and other drivers as well?

ARCOS: Correct.

HILL: And what was the consensus? I mean, as you're talking to them, were the truck drivers getting any information? Were you getting any information?

ARCOS: No, no, not at all.

From my understanding, I didn't -- I didn't know what was going on until maybe, I'd say, 4:00 a.m., when I finally reached a spot where I can get out of my car. And when I did, I saw there was black ice on the ground. And I kind of like realized, oh, so this is a valid point. I should -- I should stop where I'm at. And that's kind of like a moment of defeat for me.

I had to turn off my vehicle. And I just -- I try to sleep. I try to -- I try to rest my head as much as I could. But there was no resting.

HILL: You say you need to tried to rest in this in this moment of defeat.

Was there a moment where you thought, I'm going to run out of gas, I'm going to be stuck in this cold car? Were you worried you may not -- you may not move for a period of time after running out of gas?

ARCOS: Yes. Yes.

I actually got stuck on the side of the road for maybe 10 minutes. It was very brief, but it was definitely scary and embarrassing, to say the least. Two gentlemen got out of their vehicles and helped me out.

But I kind of -- I almost gave up. I stopped pressing on the gas. And then I felt someone pushing from behind. I look back, I see one guy and then I see another guy coming to help. And I started pressing on the gas pedal. And I got out of that ditch. HILL: I mean, these -- look, these are the good moments, right, that

we can hold on to is the way that people really do come together, whether it's the truck drivers messaging and saying, hey, we have got snacks or strangers helping you out of that ditch.

You're on your way now. You were able to get some gas. How much longer until you get to your destination?

ARCOS: Originally, it was 48 miles, but because of the alternate routes that have to take, it's 50 miles with a two-hour arrival.

HILL: And were you -- when you were stuck there, right, in all these hours that you were there, were you tuning to local radio? Were you able to find any sort of communication from officials alerting to what was going on?

Or was that information coming more from, again, say, the truck drivers, who maybe were getting some information, radioing with other truck drivers?

ARCOS: It was -- surprisingly, I couldn't find anything on the radio. I don't know if I didn't know the station. But that's actually the main reason why I was on social media.

I was trying to see if anybody else was trying to do something about this. Maybe Virginia officials were saying something about this. And I started seeing that it was trending in my location. And I click on it, and I see other drivers uploading photos and alerting of what's happening.

And I saw a trailer that was -- I believe the term is jackknifed, where it was like above ice. And it was pretty -- it was pretty bad. And as I started driving finally, I started realizing also some of the problems were that other drivers were abandoning their vehicle.

So they were creating extra traffic. Everybody thought that there was a driver in the car right there in front of them, when, in reality, there was no one there at all. So we didn't know whether to go around them or to wait.

HILL: Wow.

Well, you have quite a story to tell, Issac. Glad that you are on your way out. Glad that you got some gas.

Appreciate you taking the time to join us today. What a story you will have, one heck of a way to kick off 2022.


HILL: Thank you. Drive safe.

ARCOS: Definitely. Definitely.

Thank you.

HILL: And stay with us. We will be right back.