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More Than 100,000 Hospitalized in the U.S. with COVID-19; U.S. Teacher Raise Health Concerns as Schools Reopen; Largest U.S. Pediatric Hospital Sees Record Admissions; Omicron Variant Tightening Its Grip on Europe; Theranos Founder Guilty of Wire Fraud and Conspiracy; Drivers Stranded on I-95 in Virginia After Winter Storm. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 04, 2022 - 04:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a very warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and right around the world. I'm Isa Soares in London and just ahead right here on CNN news room.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until this is under control everywhere around the globe. We're going to see new variants emerge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just really hard to a avoid this virus because of how widespread it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a viral blizzard in all 50 states.


SOARES: As the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads like wild wildfire around the world, hospitals are under pressure and understaffed.

Stranded by hours surrounded by ice and snow, drivers look for a way out on one of America's busiest interstates.

And boycotts, controversy and COVID. With a month until the Beijing winter Olympics, we look at the challenges facing the organizers.

ANNOUNCER: Live from London, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Isa Soares.

SOARES: Welcome, everyone. It's great to be back with you. It is Tuesday, January 4th. And for the first time in nearly four months, the U.S. is reporting more than 100,000 people in the hospital with COVID-19. I want to show you this. Have a look at this map. Really a sea of dark red there. The vast majority of the country seeing high levels of transmission right now.

The latest data from the CDC shows unvaccinated adults are eight times more likely to end up in the hospital compared to vaccinated adults. Now, states are also reporting surges in the number of children in the hospital. A former acting director of the CDC summed up the intense strain on America's healthcare system. Have a listen.


DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. CDC: If you are seeing millions of people who get it, even a small percentage of those people having a bad outcome, having conditions that lead to more serious illness, will put a strain on our healthcare system. And we're seeing it with children. We're seeing it with adults. And so, everything we do to reduce the spread of this, to reduce the rate of these high cases, will take some pressure off the healthcare system. And not just make room for taking care of people with COVID but ensure that if you're somebody having a heart attack or you need cancer treatment or diabetes or kidney disease, that there will be room there to take care of you.


SOARES: Well, meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to speak in the coming hours about the Omicron variant and his administration's efforts to curb the rapid spread. The White House is under pressure to explain how it plans to provide half a billion at home COVID tests free of charge. Administration officials say they are still in the process of obtaining the tests. Health experts have warned the nationwide shortage of at-home tests is hindering progress against the virus.

Schools are back in session in the United States. But some teachers don't feel safe returning to the classroom because, of course, of Omicron. The Chicago Teachers Union is set to vote on a motion to strictly teach online which could mean a district wide lockout.

In New York, the teachers union president wants to make sure schools are properly staffed as more employees get sick. He says the last thing schools need is to be forced to combine classes together. But New York's new mayor says schools are the safest place for children. He shot down a teachers union request for a temporary move to remote learning. Here's what the mayor had to say.


ERIC ADAMS, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Children that are not in school, they're not staying in their rooms. They're out in the street, not wearing a mask, some are not getting the food they deserve. Many of them are dealing with socialization and other crises that come from being isolation and not in a school building. So, this is the most important thing we can do, and that's keep our schools open and allow our children to receive the support that they deserve.


SOARES: Well, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is authorizing Pfizer boosters for children age 12 to 15. And everyone 12 and over can now get a booster five months after their initial shot, rather than six months. But experts say not enough American children are getting vaccinated and that's leading to record hospital admissions for kids. CNN's Miguel Marquez visited the country's largest pediatric hospital in Houston, Texas.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 4- month-old Graysen Perry, his tiny belly rapidly expanding, and contracting. One of many children here, with COVID-19, struggling to breathe.

MARQUEZ: 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 (voice-over): 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 -- 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 (voice-over): Amy Woodruff's daughter, Halie, 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: And she has not seen yet?

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

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

MARQUEZ: 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.

MARQUEZ: 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 that 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, 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 (voice-over): 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 (voice-over): 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 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 healthcare resources.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Miguel Marquez, CNN, Houston, Texas.


SOARES: Thank you, Miguel.

Well, medical experts in the U.S. keep warning parents that their children are at greater risk of getting sick from Omicron variant, and that for most vaccination is an opportunity, of course, to keep them out of the hospital. Here's one doctor's plea.


DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Even before this wave, hospitals were being overrun. They were being overrun because of Delta, but also, they are facing substantial staffing shortages and also many patients put off their medical care. And so, hospitals that were already at the brink, even a little bit additional from Omicron is pushing them over the edge. And so, when it comes to children, for parents of children 5 and above

who are eligible to get the vaccine, what are you waiting for? This is the time that's the most dangerous for our children in the entire pandemic because of how widespread COVID is. There's just virus everywhere. Please get your children vaccinated. And that also by the way, is key to protecting those kids under the age of 5 if older siblings, for example, are vaccinated, that's the whole idea of herd immunity to protect those who need our help the most.


SOARES: Well, that's the situation really in the United States. In Europe, healthcare systems are also struggling with a crush of cases fueled by the Omicron variant. In Ireland, nearly 4,000 frontline workers are out on COVID-related leave as hospitalizations soar more than 40 percent.

Cases are also skyrocketing here in the U.K. where the Prime Minister is asking everyone to follow restrictions to reduce the burden, of course, on hospitals. He says the majority of people winding up in intensive care have not been vaccinated.

Well, CNN's Jim Bittermann standing by live in Paris covering Europe for us.


We begin with Phil Black in Essex. Good morning to you, Phil. As I was just saying, we continue to see, Phil, cases skyrocketing, but the Prime Minister we heard in the last 24 hours feels pretty adamant that no new restrictions will come into place. The fear, of course, is that it will get worse as children return to school this week.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, that's right, Isa. Tremendous uncertainty. But we are entering a phase now where we are likely to get a sense of just how the Omicron wave is going to play out here in the U.K., specifically in England. School is about to come back. On top of that we are about to see the consequence of those surging record infection numbers over the Christmas and new year period.

While Omicron often results in milder illness, the concern is the infection rates. It is simply -- the numbers are simply so vast, that you are still inevitably going to see really big numbers of people falling seriously ill, turning up at hospital, increasing pressure on the health system.

Now, the Prime Minister knows that his government has taken a very soft touch approach when it comes to restrictions. And so, for these reasons, the situation is finally balanced. A core part of their approach remains vaccines, specifically, the booster campaign. And only around 60 percent of the population aged over 12 has been boosted so far. So, there remains significant work there to do. Listen to the Prime Minister now trying to push people to get those boosters quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: A third jab really does make a big, big difference. There are 2 million slots just this week to get your booster, so get boosted now. It can make all the difference in the world. The majority of people who are in I.C.U. sadly have not been vaccinated, and certainly the vast majority, about 90 percent, have not been boosted.


BLACK: Now, booster rates are higher among the older, more vulnerable part of the population. That could explain one encouraging trend that hospitals are reporting. So, far, they say they have not seen a large numbers of older seriously ill patients needing critical care. It's a key difference from previous waves, they say, and it is thought that that is the vaccine and booster effect -- Isa.

SOARES: That's very good news indeed. Phil do stay with us. I want to go to Jim in Paris. And Jim, the situation is particularly difficult in Ireland at the moment, which is really facing a double whammy, a rise in hospitalizations, but a rise also of healthcare workers out sick.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a problem everywhere, I think. One of the things most governments are trying to do here is somehow limit the number of days that people are out sick because it really is impacting the healthcare workers about everywhere, including here in France where the numbers are tremendous.

Overnight we've been watching the French Parliament because they've basically waded in, trying to extend the health pass -- the health pass here. Basically, up until now, has been totally required to get into any kind of public space. For example, a restaurant or a bar, any kind of public activity. And you could get the health pass by being fully vaccinated or by showing a negative COVID test.

Now, though, the government wants to get rid of that exception for the negative COVID test. Meaning that people will have to be fully vaccinated in order to get the health pass and get access to the various places that they want to get to. So, that has resulted in a big pushback. And Parliament and this just last night parliament session was suspended last night even though the government tried to keep it going all night long. The government says they're going to try to get this back on track so the health pass will be passed by January 15. But that doesn't look to likely right at the moment.

And there's been other push backs in other parts of Europe. In southeastern Germany there was a big protest yesterday. About 200 people were out protesting the COVID rules. And about 40 people were arrested and 14 police were injured. And a melee that resulted when police moved in because Germans cannot gather in groups of larger than ten even if they've been vaccinated -- Isa.

SOARES: Jim Bittermann for us and Phil Black, thank you to you both.

Now, the Trump family lawyers are moving to get subpoenas thrown out for their testimonies in the fraud investigation. Officials want to question former U.S. President Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump, and daughter Ivanka, about whether Trump inflated his wealth to secure bank loans and undervalued them to reduce his taxes. But Trump's lawyers said the New York Attorney General is trying to avoid a grand jury trial while gathering information that would help a separate criminal investigation into the Trump organization.


But New York's Attorney General says despite what she calls, quote, two years of delay tactics, the investigation won't stop because no one is above the law, she says.

Well, nearly a year after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, new poll shows a rising acceptance of political violence. A "Washington Post" and University of Maryland poll reveals 34 percent of Americans feel violent action against the government is sometimes justified. And in a separate poll, 62 percent of Americans -- as you can see there on your screen -- say they expect the losing side in future presidential elections to react violently compared to 38 percent who say they expects the losing side to concede peacefully.

Now, a California jury has convicted the founder of Theranos on four counts of wire fraud and conspiracy. Elizabeth Holmes had claimed her company revolutionized blood testing and could detect conditions like cancer and diabetes with just a few drops. CNN's Camila Bernal has the story for you.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Elizabeth Holmes leaving that courtroom in San Jose knowing that she's likely headed to prison. The jury in this trial made up of eight men and four women delivering a partial verdict. And I want to break it down for you.

There are four counts where the jury found her guilty, and these are three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. And it's all in relation to investors. Then the jury found her not guilty on four other counts, and those were in relation to patients. And finally, the jury was not able to come to an agreement on three different wire fraud charges.

But what matters here is the guilty verdicts. The prosecution argues that Elizabeth Holmes out of time and out of money lied to these investors. They say she lied about the capabilities of her technology, lied about the company's relationship with the military, and lied about validation from pharmaceutical companies. The jury here agreeing. And the woman who was once known as the darling of Silicon Valley with a vision of the future is now facing the consequence of her past.

Camila Bernal, CNN, Los Angeles.


SOARES: And still to come, a powerful winter storm is leaving behind record breaking snow and widespread power outages across eastern United States. We'll have the very latest forecast for you next.

And a terrible traffic situation -- you can see there -- in the U.S. state of Virginia. Lots of vehicles trapped on a busy interstate. I'll speak with a driver, who we're told, hasn't moved for hours and is traveling with a puppy. That's next.



SOARES: Now, crews are working through the night to clear vehicles stuck and blocking I-95 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. A severe winter storm caused a huge backup -- as you can see there -- with a section of the interstate being blocked by multiple disabled vehicles leaving drivers really stranded for hours. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's someone walking toward us. This is scary. Because they could be equally wiped out by a sliding vehicle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's crazy. Not only that, but there's a power outage. So, therefore, all the restaurants are closed.


SOARES: Well, my next guest is one of those drivers now stuck on I-95 in Virginia. Sean Stafford joins me on the line. Sean, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us. First of all, how are you doing? How are you feeling?

SEAN STAFFORD, DRIVER STRANDED ON I-95: All things considered, I'm doing fine, I guess. A little tired, but other than that, not too bad.

SOARES: And give our viewers around the world who are just watching us now a sense of what you can see with your own eyes, and how long you've been stuck on the I-95 there.

STAFFORD: Well, basically all you can see is a parking lot, I guess imagine if you drove to a major sporting event, the kind of getting out of the parking lot except nobody is moving. And I've been sitting here since 5:00 p.m. yesterday. So, almost 12 hours at this point.

SOARES: Yes, just almost 12 hours. And as you're talking, we're looking at photos that you took from your vantage point. And, of course, you've been stuck there for 12 hours. Do you have anywhere you can eat? Do you have water? Are you being told how long you have to wait? What are you hearing?

STAFFORD: Luckily since I was driving up from Florida, I packed a number of snacks and whatnot for myself. So, I'm doing OK in that regard. As for what's going on, the closest I got was the Virginia D.O.T. Twitter account asking me which direction I was heading. And then a few minutes later said they believe that a single lane is being opened, but they can't tell if it is north or south. They are trying to confirm with the crew, and that was at 3:39 a.m. and as of yet, they can't decide if it's north or south. So, I'm waiting to hear back for that.

SOARES: And why is it taking do you think so long? I mean, normally you have so many plows just going through these motor ways, right? Why do you think it's taking so long? I'm seeing the roads look very, very icy from your photos and videos.

STAFFORD: Oh, extremely icy. I'm from the northeast. I'm from Long Island, New York, and I'm extremely disappointed in the response from Virginia. I wasn't here when it was snowing obviously. I was still driving up from the south. But to my eyes, it was maybe cursory plowed once maybe. The lanes are indistinguishable and it is basically an ice sheet now.

I've noticed on the south side they have a trickle of cars are coming through. And at first, they had a caterpillar-style backhoe plow that's going by itself up and down. And then at about 3:35, two of the larger dump trucks, salt trucks went by on a road that is basically, perfectly clean. I don't know why they're still plowing it. And meanwhile on the northbound side we are sitting here. So, as someone who, you know, deals with snow quite a bit in the winter, I was pretty shocked at how bad this was.


SOARES: And just for our viewers' understanding, from what CNN has learned, there are about 20 or 30 trucks who are stuck there. There are fallen trees, but also some 14 inches of snow. And the temperatures are like 21 Fahrenheit, minus 6 for everyone else. Do you have enough, do you have enough gas?

STAFFORD: I'm currently at half a tank, yes. I should be OK. I am reserving it, shutting it off for 45 minutes or so at a time. And I can see other cars kind of doing the same thing. But I would imagine there's a lot of -- I was on a long drive, so my tank was mostly full. But for the people who live in the area, there's probably a lot of people who are near empty. And I don't know what they're going to do. I've only seen one service truck go by. It was a pickup-style with things on the back of it. I don't know if he had gas or what. He drove, I don't know, a few cars ahead. Looked like he was helping someone. But I don't know. I've not seen anyone get gas or anyone from county come talk to us or let us know what's going on or ask if we need anything. So, we're kind of on our own out here.

SOARES: Well, that must be pretty frustrated. And how many miles do you have left of your journey, considering that you're also traveling with a puppy, right?

STAFFORD: Yes, I am. I only have 321 miles left once I get going, of the 1,200 or so that I started. Yes, I was down in Florida for both my mother's birthday and to get a new puppy -- a new Weimaraner puppy for my family. He is doing very well. He's kind of just my copilot just sitting on the front seat here, just relaxing on a dog bed. So, out of everyone he's got it the best.

SOARES: I'm glad you're staying positive and the puppy is making you smile. Sean do keep us posted. Stay safe, stay warm, and I hope you get home quickly. Thank you very much. Sean there for us.

STAFFORD: Thank you very much. Have a good day.

SOARES: Sean Stafford. Thank you.

Now, more than 400,000 customers across five states are still without power after that winter storm that really that pummeled the U.S. East Coast. One town in Maryland reported 11 1/2 inches of snow, and conditions at the Baltimore/Washington airport forced ground stop until Monday afternoon. New Jersey's governor declared a state of emergency in some areas. And on the coast, 30 mile per hour winds, as you can see there, pushed the seas to 2 to 3 feet over normal tide levels.

And naturally the storm has hampered travel across the region. U.S. flight cancellations top 2,100 on Monday, with about 18,000 since Christmas Eve. Southwest Airlines said the weather and not staffing shortages due to COVID-19, were responsible for the last few day's cancellation. CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins me now with more.

My goodness. Good morning to you, Pedram. It is quite a whiplash that everyone is facing with this weather, including I guess you probably just heard, Sean, who's been stuck there coming up to 12 hours.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's incredible, because you know, because the snow passed about 12 hours ago across some of these areas where skies began clearing. But the weather pattern as far as the temperatures are concerned have been conducive for this snow to stick around. And the cooling pattern in store the next couple days is really remarkable as well. And kind of breaking this down for you because you notice, Isa, you kind of noted the 14-plus inches that came down around these regions. The most snowfall we've seen in some of the areas, like Washington, D.C. since January of 2019. So, it has been a few years since we've seen this amount of accumulation.

And eastern Tennessee, they picked up about 9 inches. Northern Georgia 4 inches. Even as far south as Mississippi and Alabama a couple inches of snow on the ground. But you'll notice, with all the disruptions in place, 400,000 customers scattered about the region still without power. But why is it so cold? Why is it so disruptive so many hours later?

You've got to look at fresh snow. When it comes to fresh snow, that white color, that highly reflective or high albedo as it's known, essentially takes any sunlight that we had during the day, reflects about 80 to 90 percent of the solar radiation. So, it is essentially a great coolant. It doesn't really allow any surface warming to take place, that's during the day. Nighttime, snow releases longwave radiation that also allows -- and it's a cooling process -- it allows significant cooling to take place. So, temperatures continue to drop in some of these areas down to 8 degrees this morning Fahrenheit.

You'll notice it takes about three days of temperatures above 50 Fahrenheit or 10 Celsius for about 2 to 4 inches of snow to melt. With 14 inches on the ground, it will take weeks for all of the snow to be entirely out of the way unless it's properly removed, of course. Then you take a look. This area has gone on a temperature roller coaster. Charlottesville, Virginia, was 70 degrees on new year's day. Temperatures this morning dropping off down into the lower and middle single digits, around 8 degrees.

Again, remarkable turn of events in a matter of a couple days, essentially setting the stage for the snow to stick around and make it that much more disruptive. But pattern is going colder for some of these areas as we get another surge of arctic air. That's across the Midwest. They'll spill a little bit across areas of the northeast.

Notice these temperatures in Chicago. The low temperature on Wednesday at 17, gets even colder come Thursday, 8, Friday, 1 below. And you notice this trend. Eventually does arrive around the northeast. So, even though it's cold now, it could get even colder over the next several days -- Isa.