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Debate Over COVID-19 School Safety Measures Heats Up; CDC Director Walensky Facing Criticism Over Confusing Guidelines; Senator John Thune Announces He Will Run For Re-election; Biden Tours Fire- Ravaged Colorado, Promises Federal Help; Harry Reid Remembered By Biden, Obama, Other Democrat Leaders; Antigen Versus PCR: What You Need to Know About COVID Tests; Pharmacies Feeling The Brunt Of Surge In Testing And Vaccinations; Oscar-Winning Actor And Activist Sidney Poitier Dies At 94. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired January 08, 2022 - 13:00   ET



ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And not only is that dangerous for the roads, but it also claims to trees and power lines and those may continue to come down as well so you could have some power outages.

And the other thing, Fred, too to keep in mind is the temperatures are going to drop pretty considerably.

Take a look at that Minneapolis going from 28 today, down to a high of only two on Monday, Chicago going from a high of 30 today, down to only 15 by Monday.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Those are brutal conditions. All right, thank you so much, Allison Chinchar.

All right, hello again, everyone, thank you so much for joining me I'm Fredricka Whitfield. All right, we began this hour with states scrambling to keep up with a surge in COVID hospitalizations.

The number of patients across the country is nearing the record set almost a year ago of 142,000 hospitalizations, and even more concerning child hospitalizations are hitting new records as the Omicron variant spreads. All of this is fueling more debate on how school districts can best keep kids and teachers safe.

Meantime, hospital staffing shortages and dwindling testing supplies are becoming more common. In California, the National Guard is being activated to help assist hospitals where needed. In Colorado, the state activated its crisis standards of care to keep up with the rise in patients.

CNN's Nadia Romero is in Atlanta where students are returning to classes in school right on Monday. So what are people saying about the plans?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, that is the plan so far, right? But the original plan was for them to return to in- person learning once they returned from Holiday break, but then we had this rise in COVID-19 cases, so they went back to remote learning.

Monday is the day and on that day as well, starts mandatory testing for teachers at the Atlanta Public School District twice a week and students can get tested as well with parental consent. That's how they're hoping to control the spread of COVID-19 in their schools and keep kids in the classroom.

But we're seeing a lot of issues at other school districts all across the country, including in Chicago yet another instance where the city of Chicago and the school district are at odds yet again.

Now, today, both sides are supposed to come to the meeting table and sit down and try to hash this thing out but the big issue is that the city's mayor wants kids to be back to in-person learning. She says it's the safest thing for kids, they get their meals from school, many of them, it allows their parents to go to work. She wants in-person learning but the school districts, teachers, the teacher union, some of the parents want more testing, they want more masks.

Listen to what they say needs to happen in order for them to come back to the school building and feel safe.


JESSE SHARKEY, PRESIDENT, CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION: We've been failed by the mayor, we've been failed by the public health officials, and teachers in the school staff as they said we have we -- the only thing that we get to control is whether we go into the buildings, and we're saying we want to teach and we want to do what's right for our students.


ROMERO: So they want to do what's right for their students, but they want to do it safely. That's what we're hearing from the teachers. On the city's side, they're saying that we've done everything we could possibly do to make it safe, but we have to move on with everyday life.

We're also seeing the same kind of contentious battles happening in New York State, the mayor there also wanting in-person learning but the different teachers' unions and lawmakers are asking for more testing, more mask.

And San Francisco just yesterday, throughout the Bay Area, teachers planned a sick out to protest against what they say is a lack of resources to be back in the school at a safe rate.

Fred, this is something that we've seen throughout this pandemic and unfortunately, just hasn't gotten better.

WHITFIELD: No. All right, Nadia Romero, thank you so much.

All right, let's talk more about this with students returning to class in Atlanta on Monday. Schools in the state have a new set of rules set by Governor Brian Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey. Under an order sign this week, public school teachers who test positive for COVID-19 no longer need to isolate before returning to the classroom as long as they are asymptomatic and wear a mask. Schools are also not required to do contact tracing.

Here now to talk about it, the President of the Georgia Association of Educators, Lisa Morgan. Miss Morgan, it's so good to see you. Well, what's your reaction to this new order?

LISA MORGAN, PRESIDENT, GEORGIA ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS: Thank you for having me on, Fredricka. My reaction is that this is the absolute wrong thing to do at the absolute worst time.

We know that there are increasing cases in our children, there's increasing hospitalizations in our children and this action shows a lack of regard for the health and safety of educators, students, and our families.

WHITFIELD: So what do you believe is behind Governor Brian Kemp's order to do this?


MORGAN: I believe this is an attempt to keep our schools open for face-to-face instruction. And as educators, no one wants to be in the classroom with our students more than us. We have said that all along during the pandemic, but it must be done in a health and safety way -- in a healthy and safe way, with a priority on keeping us in the classroom by keeping us all healthy.

As a kindergarten teacher, I can tell you that every little bug my students get, they share. They share with their classmates, they share with the teachers, and we know that's what happens in our buildings so we have to be extra vigilant in our classrooms and on our buses, to try to mitigate the spread of this Omicron variant that is so much more infectious.

WHITFIELD: And with this new Georgia, you know, state order, also, what comes with it? Is the discretion of each school district, they still can independently make some decisions about what they're going to require from teachers, regardless of what the order says about, you know, teachers being asymptomatic, testing positive still being able to go into schools?

Then what are you hearing from teachers? What are their frustrations about, you know, the ongoing virus, the ongoing hospitalizations of children, and their desires to get in the classroom and teach kids but at the same time, being concerned about their safety?

MORGAN: I think frustration is the best word to use with these new guidelines. Schools will no longer be required to do the contact tracing and we have school systems that have said they will not be doing contact tracing.

So now, an educator will not know if there is a positive case in their classroom, parents will not know if there is a positive case in their child's classroom so educators and parents will then, unable to be able to make informed decisions to ensure their child's health and safety.

WHITFIELD: I spoke with a member of Congress in the last hour who says he really advocates school districts being able to extend an option to families.

If you're comfortable with your kid going to school in person, then you have that option, if you're not that child can continue to do remote learning at home. Is that feasible? Would that be possible as you see it in school districts throughout Georgia if that were an option?

MORGAN: We have some school districts that did allow that option, but we have other school districts that have simply said no, face to face is the only option we are giving or on the other hand, we have districts that did allow that option that had deadlines for parents to choose that option and those deadlines passed many of them in December and now we're seeing the tremendous surge and they are not allowing parents to then switch.

WHITFIELD: Yes, do you think it's a mistake that while that was exercised across the board, I mean, from coast to coast last year, and you know, in the first year and a half of this pandemic, but with the new year, that option is not being you know considered or even exercised?

Is that a mistake or do you believe it's time to return to that?

MORGAN: I believe that anything that we do that is not putting the priority on keeping students and educators and their families safe is a mistake. We should be using every tool we have in our toolbox to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our classrooms and in our school.

WHITFIELD: Do you believe it should be a requirement that teachers are vaccinated?

MORGAN: We do have one district here -- we have two districts actually here in Georgia that have required their employees to be vaccinated. We believe that vaccination is one of the best tools we have and that we all should be using that tool from our toolbox, along with masks.

We think masks are at the minimum should be the requirement in all of our educational sites, our school buses, our cafeterias when our children aren't eating, and especially in our classrooms.

WHITFIELD: Lisa Morgan, thank you so much for being with us with the Georgia Association of Educators.

MORGAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: As the Omicron variant surges, the changing CDC COVID guidelines have been causing a lot of confusion out there.

Now, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is facing backlash for the agency's lack of clear messaging. CNN's Gabe Cohen has this. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: As we've articulated before, CDC is working on updated data --


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky facing renewed criticism from within the White House and her own agency after yet another guidance gaffe.

A source, telling CNN that CDC Scientists are increasingly frustrated with Walensky's handling of guidance.

And between her circumventing their vetting process for guidelines and the public criticism, morale at the agency is sinking.

WALENSKY: It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate.

COHEN: It comes after the CDC cut the COVID isolation period from 10 days to five, making no mention of a negative test, drawing pushback from health experts and contradiction from the Surgeon General.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: They have certainly received feedback and questions about the role of testing.

COHEN: As well as Dr. Anthony Fauci.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I'm saying it's something that absolutely should be considered and I believe the CDC is going to clarify that.

COHEN: They did.

Same people can test if they want to, but if they test positive, they should isolate for five more days.

The head of the American Medical Association says all of this is not only confusing but risking further spread of the virus.

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: I think the problem here isn't so much the guidance it's the lack of effective communication about the guidance.

COHEN: Dr. Tom Frieden was CDC Ddrector under the Obama administration.

FRIEDEN: And yes, there are some judgment calls, so be frank about them.

COHEN: Now, CNN has learned Dr. Walensky is in media training. For months, she's been meeting with a consultant to improve her communication skills. She held a rare solo news conference.

WALENSKY: This is hard, and I am committed and to continue to improve as we learn more about the science and to communicate that with all of you.

COHEN: The well-regarded infectious disease expert had no government experience before President Biden appointed her and has often seemed out of step with the White House and Dr. Fauci, leading to some abrupt and confusing changes in guidance.

In May, she announced vaccinated people could stop wearing masks indoors drawing quick criticism that it was too soon.

And last February, the White House had to clarify Walensky's comment that teachers did not need to be fully vaccinated for schools to reopen.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Dr. Walensky spoke to this and her personal capacity.

COHEN: Now, Walensky is under fire for not following the CDC's own playbook for explaining new guidance. A Biden COVID advisor tells me the CDC has got to do a better job communicating what they're doing and why, and that has to happen quickly.

PSAKI: That's what happens when you lead with the data and the science and not leave with a clear communications plan.

COHEN (on camera): And Dr. Frieden is urging the White House to move their COVID briefings from DC to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta to make this less partisan and to let the subject matter experts can troll more of the public messaging.

And I'll also note that the Biden COVID advisor I spoke with told me, this is really a larger coordination problem across the administration, between the White House, the CDC, the FDA, and the National Institutes of Health, and blame here can't solely fall on Dr. Walensky.

Gabe Cohen, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk further about all this. Joining me right now is Dr. Owais Durrani. He's an Emergency Medicine Physician out of Houston. So good to see you, doctor.

So lots of confusion, let's zero in on that, particularly, on the whole, you know, CDC guidelines of isolation from 10 days to five days.

What are you hearing from patients?

DR. OWAIS DURRANI, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: Yes, thanks for having me, a lot of confusion, indeed. You know, when I see a patient in the emergency department, we do a large workup and then I sum that work up in about a few sentences and give them some discharge instructions.

I feel like the CDC needs to do a better job of that. They have a lot of information, a lot of data, and they really have to condense that down into clear messaging. My patients are confused about how long they should isolate if they should test when they can go back to work or school, and it's hard for me to give them clear guidance because the CDC's guidance honestly has me confused at times as well.

WHITFIELD: And -- but should it also be expected that there are going to be fluctuating instructions because this virus is changing, it's constantly evolving and so guidance has to constantly evolve as well?

DURRANI: I 100 percent agree. And I think a lot of the changes that were made the 10 to five days were in the interest of the kind of being current with the science and the evolution of Omicron. And what we're seeing, I think it's been said over and over again, we just wish testing was a part of it.

I tell my patients if they have access to test negative twice in subsequent days, and then they can come out of isolation. If you don't test negative, then day 10 is when you can come out of isolation.

WHITFIELD: And on the issue of tests. It's very difficult to find, I mean you pull up Danny, Walgreens, CVS, Duane Reade and there are signs on the front doors or at the pharmacy, windows that say we don't have any tests.

So when the White House says it has a plan to send as many as 500 million tests to Americans, how helpful might that be, how urgently do you think that is needed?


DURRANI: Yes, we needed them last month essentially, we need them now. I think 500 million honestly won't be enough. Every American should have at least two to three tests per week to be tested, and 500 million is not even going to get a snare there.

Because there's such a shortage of tests, we are having a huge rush on our emergency departments of people wanting us to test them.

And that's leading to a delay of care for critically ill patients, people showing up with heart attacks and strokes because we're understaffed, that is it -- as it is, and we're having to take care of the sick patients, and then all these patients who want COVID tests and so it's a really complex and difficult situation for us.

WHITFIELD: And is it the case at your hospital, are you experiencing that patients are discovering they are positive with COVID because perhaps they are coming into the hospital for other ailments, they don't have access to at-home testing, only to find out that not only do they have this other problem, like you just mentioned, maybe a heart issue, but they're also testing positive, and now you have to treat them for multiple issues?

DURRANI: Absolutely. So, that is the case in the big kind of grand scheme of things. It doesn't change anything for us because we still have a lack of beds and a lack of staff. And whether you have COVID or don't have COVID, we start to take care of you. It actually makes things more difficult.

So for example, if you came in for a stroke, and my hospital doesn't happen to have a neurologist, I have to transfer you. Now finding a bed for that patient is hard enough. Now, when I get on the transplant on this patient is COVID positive, they have to find a hospital with a neurologist and an isolation bed that's available.

So that makes caring for even non-COVID-related issues, even if you're asymptomatically COVID positive that much more difficult.

WHITFIELD: So, Dr. Durrani, how do you see our way out of this, or are you resigned to the fact that we will all just simply be living with COVID but the degrees in which we live with it may vary? Which approach are you advising?

DURRANI: Yes. So I never give up. I always think there's a solution. I just think we need to make some hard decisions in the short term. The good news is we've learned from other countries that the spike goes up real quick and comes down real quick and so that means for about the next six weeks or so we need to make some tough decisions.

That's going to be wearing masks everywhere, an N95 mask if possible, that's going to be the federal government finding creative ways to get us tested, whether that's the Defense Production Act, or whether that's buying tests from other countries. Or whatever the case maybe we need tests now setting up testing centers, and then redoubling our efforts on vaccinations.

We have a very abysmally low percentage of kids that are vaccinated in this country and we don't talk about that enough. And our pediatric hospitals are now starting to see a surge in admissions. And so focusing on boosters, we're falling behind on that.

Focusing on childhood vaccinations and making some tough decisions when it comes to non-essential events over the next six weeks. But I think if we do those things, we can get out of this and then kind of look back to see what the mistakes were we made over the last couple of months and make sure that we don't do this all over again in a couple of months.

WHITFIELD: I hear you loud and clear. It sounds like you're saying people need to take a lot more personal responsibility to help be part of the solution here.

DURRANI: Absolutely, it's on all of us. It's -- the system's got to do its part, we've got to do all our part and we have to look out for each other.

WHITFIELD: All right, Doctor, Owais Durrani, thank you so much and continue to be well, appreciate you.

DURRANI: Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: And at the center of the fight against the Coronavirus, our pharmacies, they become crucial for vaccines and tests and, of course, everyday prescriptions. But right now, so many pharmacies are facing a dire worker shortage. We'll discuss that straight ahead.

Plus, moments from now, President Biden and a host of other Democratic leaders will gather in Nevada to honor and remember the late Senator Harry Reid. We'll take you there, live.



WHITFIELD: All right, this just into CNN, South Dakota Senator John Thune announcing he will run for reelection. For more on this, let's bring in Daniella Diaz on Capitol Hill.

Daniella, what more are you learning about this?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Fred, he made this decision to announce his intent to run for reelection just moments ago on Twitter. This is huge news, Fred, because John Thune is actually the Senate Minority Whip. He's the Number Two Senate Republican, and this is an important decision he's made to seek another term.

He's currently in his third term and he was waiting weeks, he said, to see if he wanted to seek another term in the 2022 midterms. I want to read a little bit of his tweet.

He said South Dakota deserves a strong and effective senator who can deliver the results they expect. I'm uniquely positioned to get that job done and I look forward to earning the support of all South Dakotans in the 2022 election for U.S. Senate.

Now, John Thune's an interesting senator, Republican senator, namely because he's been at odds with former President Donald Trump before namely because, of course, he was in favor of accepting the Electoral College results and President -- then-President-Elect Joe Biden's victory.

So this is huge news for South Dakota and the fact that this Number two Senate Republican is announcing his reelection.

WHITFIELD: Daniella, was there any doubt that he would seek reelection?

DIAZ: There certainly was, Fred. And right now, of course, Senate Majority -- excuse me, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was publicly urging John Thune to seek reelection because John Thune is likely seen as Mitch McConnell's successor.

He's the Number two Senate Republican. He's eyeing that spot so that is why Republicans wanted him to run for reelection. He's 61, he's fairly younger than some other senators, so he can seek another term.


And now, all eyes turn to Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, he's the last Republican who has still not yet said whether he will run for reelection. However, Senate Republicans are hopeful that he will because of course, the goal, being the Republicans want to win back their majority in the House and the Senate in the 2022 midterms, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Daniella Diaz, thank you so much for that.

All right, coming up, a busy and emotional week for President Biden on the heels of the January 6 Insurrection anniversary, he traveled to Colorado to tour the widespread damage from the wildfire there and speak with those who have lost everything. So much more, straight ahead.



WHITFIELD: All right. President Biden spent the day in Colorado yesterday where he toured the damage left by that -- those devastating fires, rather, that swept through part of the state last week.

More than 6,000 acres were burned and nearly 1,000 homes in the Boulder area were destroyed.

Arlette Saenz joining us from the White House.

Arlette, what more can you tell us about the president's trip?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fred, Biden's role as consoler-in-chief has really come into focus over the course of these two days.

Starting with that visit to Louisville, Colorado, in the wake of that Marshall Fire that devastated so many families' homes.

The president and first lady spent close to three hours on the ground in Louisville, including meeting with people who lost all of their belongings in their home.

There was a touching moment where the president was offering comfort to a father and son, who were dressed in shorts, telling the president that that was all that they had after losing all of their belongings in their homes due to this fire.

So often President Biden travels in the wake of these natural disasters to try to offer some words of comfort and support to those families who have been impacted.

While on the ground, the president also sounded the alarm about the impact of climate change on these extreme weather events.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The situation is a blinking code red for our nation because the combination of extreme drought, the driest period from June to December ever recorded, ever recorded, unusually high winds, no snow on the ground to start created a tinderbox.


SAENZ: Now, the president today will also assume that role of consoler-in-chief when he speaks at a memorial service for the late Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who passed away this past week.

Biden spent nearly two decades serving alongside Reid in the Senate. He also worked with him over those eight years as vice president.

So Biden once again returning to that role as a speaker at these memorial services, something we have seen him do time and time again for so many friends since he has taken office -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

President Biden will be joined by other dignitaries, including former President Obama, while in Nevada for that memorial service for the late Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

Reid died last month at the age of 82 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Our Jeff Zeleny is in Las Vegas.

And, Jeff -- there you go -- tell us what is planned.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, President Biden and first lady, Jill Biden, have just arrived here to the Smith Performing Arts Center in downtown Las Vegas where this funeral service will be under way in the next 30 minutes or so.

President Biden has spent much of his career working alongside Harry Reid as a Senator and vice president. He will be the final speaker as the conclusion of this memorial service here this morning in Las Vegas.

But President Barack Obama will be delivering the eulogy. And he had a very close connection, a close relationship with Senator Harry Reid.

In fact, that was made clear in the final days of Senator Reid's life when his wife asked many Senators and friends to send letters to be read to Harry Reid.

And this is what President Obama said in his letter.

He said, "I wouldn't have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support and I wouldn't have gotten most of what I got done without your skill and determination."

So that certainly crystallizes the importance that Senator Reid played in the Obama/Biden administration.

But much beyond that as well, he was an inside player, someone who knew the rules of the Senate very well, respected by both sides. Of course, how you viewed his time in the Senate largely depended on

what party you were in.

But he also had deep relationships with Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, a strong personal relationship. And they sparred quite equally.

This will be a funeral service where Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer also will be speaking, remembering the life and legacy of Harry Reid. Many Senators are here. Vice President Harris also has just arrived.

Also as you pointed out, a few protesters as well. Trump MAGA protesters also standing outside here, also criticizing Harry Reid.

But most of the supporters here certainly remembering Harry Reid's legacy and lifetime of service -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much. We will check back with you there from Las Vegas.


All right. Coming up, more than two years into the pandemic, and still there's difficulty getting a COVID test and confusion over which kind of test you need to get. We will break down the differences, next.


WHITFIELD: All right. With coronavirus cases surging once again, frustrated Americans are struggling to get tested. And as long lines and increased demand overwhelm some facilities across the country, it's harder to get done.

Even two years into this pandemic, confusion over what kind of test you should get remains.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, breaks it down for us.




PCR tests, the gold standard, that will find virus, that will find remnants of virus. You could still be positive long after you are no longer contagious.

The rapid antigen test that we talk about, people often take at home, those are the ones that are more likely to answer the question people are really asking, am I still contagious?

That's the answer that a lot of people are wanting. They feel fine, but they want to know if they are still contagious. The CDC should be promoting those types of tests, They have talked

about 500 million of these tests going out. We need more than that ultimately but that would be a start.


WHITFIELD: Thanks, Sanjay.

One of the places people are getting tests is at their local pharmacy. That's place a bigger burden on the country's pharmacies.

Theresa Tolle is the incoming president of the American Pharmacists Association and the owner of Bay Street Pharmacy.

So good to see you.

How are you holding up?

THERESA TOLLE, PRESIDENT-ELECT, AMERICAN PHARMACISTS ASSOCIATION & OWNER, BAY STREET PHARMACY: I'm doing well, thank you, Fredricka. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today.

WHITFIELD: Thanks for being with us.

So for so many people in the pharmacy, I mean, they are the point of contact, you know, when people are getting their vaccine or even getting a COVID test and, of course, just picking up their prescriptions.

How do you measure how well pharmacies are able to hand this -- handle this new demand?

TOLLE: Well, I'm going to say that it's definitely crazy everywhere right now. I mean, as you've seen the rise of this variant around the country has been just crazy and the phones are ringing off the hooks.

So I think it's tough. I think every pharmacy environment is really hard.

Staffing is an issue around the country in all settings. And then you've got employees out sick, so everybody is having to step up extra.

The phones must be ringing probably 10 times more than usual.

WHITFIELD: Yes, you have so much more to do.

And I wonder if, you know, you feel a lot more vulnerable, you're having more contact with people, whether they are well or unwell, administering vaccinations as well as, you know, testing.

Do you feel like when you talk about people out sick, do you feel like the rise of, you know, sickouts among pharmacists has risen exponentially?

TOLLE: I don't know that it's risen as exponentially. I think pharmacists, as a whole, we care so much and want to take care of people. I think they're very dedicated to being there as much as they can.

But certainly with quarantine rules and the concerns about other staff members getting sick, you have to let employees be off. It just makes everybody have to step up extra.

I'm very front line in my business and I would just say I just take a lot of precautions.

I wear my N-95 mask. I am washing my hands constantly and alcohol gel, just trying to really make sure, cleaning every surface many, many times a day just trying to make sure we're taking every precaution that we can.

For patients who are sick in my pharmacy, we are trying to keep them outside, too. We deliver out to their vehicles and do testing in their cars.

WHITFIELD: And then, just a moment ago, we heard from our Sanjay Gupta who explained the differences in COVID tests because there remains a lot of confusion out there, the PCR or antigen test, et cetera.

How much of your day is devoted to answering questions?

TOLLE: You know, that is one thing about pharmacies is I feel like we've been a great information resource and maybe the most accessible. It's easier to talk to a pharmacist perhaps than other health care professionals.

So, yes, we answer so many questions. And of course, we have the supplies sometimes when we're able to get them, so people are scheduling.

But, yes, I think that's been one of the things that pharmacists have done extremely well, among others.

But just been that information resource. I'm constantly answering questions, trying to keep my Facebook page updated to just give the most information I can in one place to the patients.

WHITFIELD: How are you and your fellow pharmacists holding up with, you know, what really is kind of mental anguish?

I mean, you're having to do so much, being taxed so much more, you described how you are so inn blee conscientious about trying to protect yourself.

TOLLE: I think we all have to make sure we're cognizant of that and take a break, whatever that is.

During the day, I'm pretty insistent my employees have to take a lunch break, for example, but even just taking time away, doing their own activities, exercising, whatever, I think that's so critical.

I think we all hope there's a light at the end of the tunnel, right? We keep thinking it's coming. So we're --



WHITFIELD: Are you becoming more optimistic or less so?

TOLLE: I think I'm becoming more optimistic.


TOLLE: It's got to get a little bit better.

And just continuing to push the -- encouraging people to get vaccinated, you know, we're just driving vaccinations and boosters a lot, too, as one of the solutions.

And that's where pharmacists are really stepped up during this pandemic.

WHITFIELD: We hope your optimism is what's contagious.


TOLLE: Well, I hope so as well. Yes, absolutely. And pharmacists are going to continue to do it.

One thing I will just say, Fredricka, we appreciate people's patience during this time because we are stretched as well.

And we just appreciate their patience. And their thank yous to the teams that are just trying their very best to keep them safe.

WHITFIELD: I know I speak for many by saying we appreciate you and your fellow pharmacists for doing what you do and being available, whether it be fielding questions, filling prescriptions or helping out with all things COVID related.

Theresa Tolle, thank you so much. And thank for taking your time today.

TOLLE: All right. Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: This quick programming note. Join Fareed Zakaria as he investigates the fight to save American democracy. This new special begins tomorrow at 9:00 p.m.

Also still ahead, tributes are pouring in for the late actor, icon and activist, Sidney Poitier. Ahead, a look back at his extraordinary legacy.



WHITFIELD: All right. Iconic actor and activist, Sidney Poitier, has died at the age of 94.

He was the first black movie star in Hollywood and also the first black man to win an Academy Award when he won best actor for his performance in the film, "Lillies of the Field".

Many of his films dealt with issues of race and social justice, including one of his most famous roles as a black man marrying a white woman in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner".


SIDNEY POITIER, ACTOR & ACTIVIST: I love you. I always have and I always will. But you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.


WHITFIELD: With me now, CNN's Natasha Chen.

So there you are in Los Angeles, in Hollywood. How are people remembering Sidney Poitier?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, the industry here completely agrees that Sidney Poitier really laid the groundwork here for so many successful black artists in future generations.

I spoke with Kyle Bowser, with the NAACP, Hollywood Bureau, who gives out the awards. And Sidney Poitier was a recipient a number of times.

And here's what he said about his laying the groundwork. He said it's like a relay race, that Poitier handed the baton to future generations, and now it's a question of whom they will hand that baton to.

Here's Bowser talking about the intersection of Poitier's work as an actor and activist.


KYLE BOWSER, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, NAACP, HOLLYWOOD BUREAU: Our purpose sometimes is not always visible to us, and sometimes it's not revealed to us until we are well along the path of pursuing our calling.

And I think Sidney Poitier realized at some point that his purpose was much larger than his career as an actor.

So his commitment to the civil rights movement was a manifestation of him using his calling for his purpose. It was a perfect alignment.


CHEN: And I want to call up some of the reactions from Hollywood celebrities, even presidents of the United States here, tributes that have been pouring in on social media.

Including from Denzel Washington, who said, "He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us."

Whoopi Goldberg said, ""To Sir, with Love. He showed us how to reach for the stars."

And here is former President Barack Obama saying, "Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together."

You know, I watched one of Poitier's acceptance speeches for an Image Award he received in 2001 and something he said then really spoke to me.

He said that, in his teens, he says, "Each time I thought of myself as being no less than any man and my dreams were as valid as I was prepared to make them" -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: Wow, yes. He was poignant and really powerful.

Natasha Chen -- he touched so many of us in so many different ways.

Natasha Chen, thank you so much for bringing those perspectives to us.

All right. Right now, in Las Vegas, family, friends and politicians are gathering to honor the man from the tiny town of Search Light who became a titan of the U.S. Senate.


We'll take you live to the memorial of the late Senator Harry Reid.


WHITFIELD: Hello, again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin this hour with a farewell to one of Capitol Hill's legendry figures.

Right now, in Las Vegas, former Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is being remembered by a number of top Democrat politicians at his memorial service.

President Joe Biden, first lady, Jill Biden, and former President Barack Obama are just a few of the prominent politicians there in Nevada to pay their respects to the late Democratic leader.

Reid died late last month at the age of 82 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

And despite being born into abject poverty in a small town, he went on to become one of the most powerful politicians in Nevada history.

Let's bring in Jeff Zeleny.


Jeff, we see that President Biden is already there. What's expected at this service today?

ZELENY: Well, Fredricka, the service is just getting under way right now.