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Bronx Apartment Fire Kills 19, Including Nine Children; U.S Hospitals See Critical Staffing Shortages as Omicron Spreads; Comedian, Full House Star Bob Saget Dies at Age 65. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2022 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Bianna Golodryga. A very busy Monday morning as well.

Happening right now, officials are investigating after a massive fire ripped through a New York City apartment complex. Mayor Eric Adams says it was one of the worst fires the city has seen in decades. At least 19 people, including nine children have died and several others are injured. Officials believe a space heater ignited the blaze.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D-NEW YORK CITY, NY): This is wake up call for all of our builders, do proper testing, make sure the complaints of repeated smoke alarms going off without any real smoke or fire. We need to make sure these systems operate because they save lives.


SICUTTO: So many lives lost here.

Plus, critical staffing shortages at hospitals beginning to emerge around the country as the omicron variant pushes the health care system once again. Look at those numbers there, to the brink. Coronavirus hospitalizations approaching record levels in the U.S. And this is notable. There's more children, many too young to be vaccinated, sadly, are ending up in the hospital.

GOLODRYGA: And, of course, that's also leading to staffing shortages nationwide as well.

Also this morning, fans remember Bob Saget, he actor known as America's dad for his role as Danny Tanner in the sitcom, Full House. He has died at just the age of 65 years old.

Well, let's begin this morning with CNN National Correspondent Brynn Gingras. She's outside that apartment complex in the Bronx. And, Brynn, what's the investigation looking into right now?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Bianna. Actually, we just saw investigators here arrive on the scene. You can see the fire trucks behind me as well. There's a number of things that they are looking into. One is why that south closing door didn't shut. Of course, the fire was in one apartment building, which was two floors, and because that door didn't shut, we're told by investigators the smoke was just able to go right up to this 19-storey building, hitting every floor, essentially suffocating and blinding many of the people who were trying to escape.

Another thing, why were fire alarms possibly going off at many times not just from this one but prior days and weeks before this according, to some residents and reports, so that they would ignore this fire alarm that happened just yesterday, and then just a fire code in general. These are all the answers that they are trying to get that we've learned about, according to the mayor.

But as I said, what an incredible tragedy that has really happened here in this building in the Bronx where people were just trying to get out of the building to save their own lives and so basically were met with heavy smoke. I want you to hear from one of the residents who was doing that.


DAISY MITCHELL, FIRE SURVIVOR, LIVES ON 10TH FLOOR OF BUILDING: My husband, he opened the door -- he said, wow, I smell something burning. And then he opened the door, it was a fire. He said, okay, baby, get dressed. I'm like, for what? But the alarm was going off a while so didn't pay it no mind. But then when he opened the door and I went out there, I passed out. It was devastating. It was like -- it was real scary. And I went to the elevator, they were like, no, don't take the elevator. I went to the stairs to open the door, it just blew me back in the house.

And I panicked and I told my husband, let me in the house, I can't see, I'm blind. I can't see. I can't see. If I stayed out there another three seconds, I would have been gone too.


GINGRAS: Yes, you can hear the panic and the desperation that she felt, like so many others inside this building. As you guys said, 19 people were killed, nine of them were children. We're learning from the mayor, it's possible more people could succumb from their injuries. There's many others who are trying to fight for their lives inside hospitals at this point.

And we have actually seen a number of firefighters coming here to the scene. We actually saw Cardinal Timothy Dolan show up here. Essentially, we will be seeing a vigil not too long from now saying prayers for all those people who lost their lives. Guys?

SCIUTTO: Nine children, goodness. Brynn Gingras there on the scene, thanks so much. Joining me now to discuss is Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres of New York. His district covers much of the South Bronx. Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

REP. RITCHIE TORRES (D-NY): Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: You grew up in the Bronx. You grew up in public housing, like where we saw this fire here. And you say that many affordable housing projects don't have basic infrastructure necessary to prevent fires like this from becoming deadly. What specific infrastructure are you talking about here that you believe might have made a difference in this case?

TORRES: Well, those comments were much broader than Twin Parks North West. The Bronx is no stranger to deadly fires.


New York City's four worst fires in the past 30 years have all been in the Bronx, from Happy Land in 1990 to Woodycrest in 2007, to Belmont in 2017, which I looked through, to Twin Parks North West in 2022. Twin Parks date back to the 1970s, but in the Bronx, we have buildings that pre-date World War I. There are buildings without sprinkler systems, without functioning fire alarms and smoke alarm systems, without self-closing doors, without safety knobs on stoves, buildings that lack what I would consider 21st century standards of fire safety. And so the lesson here is that when we disinvest from housing, we are putting tenants' lives at risk.

SCIUTTO: We spoke last hour to the former commissioner of the FDNY. He noted that, often, in many private apartment buildings, it's become standard now and required to have, for instance, sprinkler systems. He said, the reason you don't see it, in his view, in public housing is money and he said there's just not the money there to invest or there hasn't been, and he doesn't expect it to be. Is it as simple as that?

TORRES: There's a lack of resources. My understand is that the building in question, Twin Parks North West, did have a sprinkler system, did -- it was supposed to have self-closing doors. So, the fire originated from an electric space heater, malfunctioning electric space heater in a duplex on the third floor of 19-storey high-rise. And then the apartment door and the stairwell door were both left open causing the smoke to spread rapidly throughout the building. And so since these buildings have no fire escapes and since the stairwells were full of smoke, the tenants had no means of escape. And most of the tenants died -- most of the tenants who did die died from severe smoke inhalation, from cardiac and respiratory arrest.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, I want to ask you personally too, because you're a congressman, you have to deal with issues every day. This one is personal though. This is your neighborhood. You grew up in similar housing. How is the community responding and what are you telling them this morning?

TORRES: What do you tell a mother who lost her children? The two values that matter most to all of us are our family and our home. And to lose both in the span of a single tragedy is terrifying and traumatic to an extent that few of us can imagine. But we in the Bronx, we're resilient and resourceful. The story of the Bronx is a story of overcoming. And we will overcome. The Bronx is the comeback community in New York City and it's the comeback community of the United States.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's an enormous burden, as you know, to put on these folks to have to come back from something like this.

As you know, previous deadly fires, for instance, you mentioned Happy Land, going back some 30 years, then led to some structural changes, right, to do folks best to prevent the next one. What would you like to see done now? What will you push as a member of Congress to have done now to make a fire like this less likely in the future?

TORRES: My colleagues and I at this -- so, I'm a congressman and I'm going to collaborate with my state colleagues and local colleagues with them and what policies have to be put in place to improve fire safety. We have to clarify in federal law that federal developments, federally regulated and subsidized developments should be subject to local fire pros and housing probes (ph) and buildings, that every American have access to safety and affordable housing, including housing that's safe from fires.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Torres, we know you have a lot of difficult conversations that you've had already and coming up as you talk to families. Just please share with them our own concern, our heart goes out to them this morning.

TORRES: Thank you. Thank you so much.

GOLODRYGA: Well, coronavirus hospitalizations are now approaching record levels in the U.S. The huge spike in cases is pushing health care systems to the brink, as nearly a quarter of the nation's hospitals battle through critical staff shortages.

SCIUTTO: CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now.

So, Elizabeth, this is something that you and other health care professionals have been warning about, right, as health care workers get a lot positive test, like regular members of the population. So, how serious is the situation now?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very serious, with so many hospitals having these critical shortages, it makes it tougher for people to get care.

So, first of all, I'm going to say, much of the blame for this lays at the feet of the unvaccinated. If it weren't for them, we wouldn't be having the kind of situation that we're in. But having said that, health care workers who are vaccinated are getting sick. Fortunately, it's usually a mild illness but enough to keep them out of work.

So, let's take a look at case counts in this country as you can see they are going up, up, up, again, usually not enough to land you in the hospital, thank goodness, but enough that you call in sick to go to work.


I'm sure -- I've had colleagues calling in sick because of omicron. I'm sure everybody listening to this may have had colleagues calling in sick.

And now let's take a look at the country. You guys, we have looked at this map together so many times over the past two years. And what you see is that nearly everyone is dark red. That's the highest level. That slightly lighter red is the second highest. Georgia is out grayed out because Georgia is -- they are having data collection issues. But this is a serious, serious problem that the more people who get sick in the community, the more health care workers you are going to have to who are sick, and in addition, some emergency rooms are really becoming overrun with coronavirus patients who are coming in to get care in the E.R. That's causing problems as well.

GOLODRYGA: Elizabeth and Jim, it is just stunning to see the entire U.S. map there just blanketed in red, as the cases continue to spike. Elizabeth, thank you.

Well, joining us now to discuss is Dr. Carlos del Rio. He's the executive associate dean of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Doctor, thanks for joining us.

So, as we see these cases continue to rise throughout the country, I'm wondering if you're seeing any indication, especially in the northeast areas, where cases are at least beginning to peak.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY: Good morning, Bianna. Yes, talking to colleagues in the northeast, I was talking to colleagues in the New York over the weekend, and they said they are beginning to see a plateauing of hospitalizations and cases. They're still not seeing a decrease but it's plateauing in a very high level. And as Elizabeth said, hospitals are stretched to the brink. We are working really hard. We have more COVID patients than we've ever had before. But we also have less staff to take care of them. SCIUTTO: Is the country responding, in your view, in the right way to

this latest surge, right? Because the difference this time -- well, one factual difference, right, is you have a large portion of the country vaccinated. And that's been shown to keep most people free from serious illness. But you also have a bipartisan agreement here not to shut down, certainly not to the degree that we saw in earlier stages of the pandemic. From your post, is the country doing the right thing as it responds to omicron?

DEL RIO: Jim, this is very hard because we could be doing more. I don't think lockdowns is the answer. I mean, we need to get the economy moving. We need to not shut down. But the reality is the problem is we still have close to 40 percent of the country not vaccinated. And if you're not vaccinated, omicron is just as severe as other strain and we're landing those people in the hospital. If you're vaccinated, especially if you're boosted, omicron is no more than maybe just a bad cold for the great majority of people, except for the immunocompromised individuals.

So, the reality is, the problem here is we still have a large number of people who are unvaccinated. We definitely need more testing, more access testing. We have been promising at-home test and we still haven't seen them. If we have at-home test and we have better testing, you can isolate quicker and you can then prevent transmission. And we have to get masking to use regularly. Without masking -- I go to grocery stores and I see many people still unmasked. Without universal masking, we're not going to stop this wave.

So, the reality is, yes, as a country, we could be doing more but we need to be doing more as a collective, as an entire country, not just government.

GOLODRYGA: And yet this really seems to be this continued disconnect between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. You focus on the unvaccinated. But this morning, the CEO of Pfizer was asked whether he thinks that a fourth shot, another booster is warranted. And he said he doesn't have the answer to that quite yet. We have seen that administered in Israel over the past couple of weeks. What is your stance on that?

DEL RIO: The data I have seen so far, Bianna, I agree with him. I don't think -- the boosters we need is obviously to vaccinate the rest of the world. We're talking about fourth and fifth doses in many places when we have yet to give first doses to many people around the world. If we want to really end this pandemic, we have to vaccinate the world. And we cannot take our eye away from that. We're not going to get over this pandemic by boosting over and over and over.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And this, of course, a variant that emerged overseas, right, and it shows that there are no walls, there are no borders when it comes to a pandemic. Dr. Carlos del Rio, thanks so much for joining us.

Coming up, to an entire generation, growing up watching Full House on TGIF, he will always be known as dad Danny Tanner. How friends, colleagues and family are now remembering the actor and comedian Bob Saget.

GOLODRYGA: Plus, U.S. officials try to stave off a Russian invasion of Ukraine. What's on the table as U.S. and Russian officials negotiate in Geneva right now?

And across the country, officials brace for potentially unprecedented levels of violence this year. How extremists are looking to rack up small victories, that's coming up later.



GOLODRYGA: To a generation, Bob Saget will be remembered for his role as the wholesome T.V. dad, Danny Tanner on Full House. He died yesterday in Orlando at 65 years old. SCIUTTO: And the woman who played his daughter on that show, Full House, Candace Cameron Bure, posted this message, quote, Bob was one of the best humans, best human beings I've ever known in my life. I loved him so much. Saget's biological daughter, Aubrey, one of his three children, also shared one of her father's final messages.


That message says, thank you, love you, showtime.

GOLODRYGA: So much outpouring of love and affection for Saget. He was in the middle of a standup comedy tour and had just performed a two- hour set Saturday night in Florida. One of his final T.V. interviews to promote that show was with CNN-affiliate WJXT in Jacksonville.


BOB SAGET, COMEDIAN: I really love doing standup now more than I ever have. And I don't talk politics. I don't talk religion. I just want to make people laugh. And my job is to -- I'm like the Blues Brothers, where they would knock on the door and go, we're on a mission from God. I just want to make people have a good time and have a good night out.

I'm not as blue as I used to be. And some people go, Saget, come on, I want entourage Bob. And I'm like, okay, I'll throw him in there. But it's really kind of like a different version -- it's me, just being myself more and I love it.


GOLODRYGA: Well, WJXT anchor who conducted that interview, Bruce Hamilton, joins us now.

And, Bruce, you share a history with Bob that goes back decades. You both went to Temple University together and Philadelphia. And you spoke with him for the first time after years of not having spoken. What was that like?

BRUCE HAMILTON, WJXT ANCHOR, DID ONE OF LAST INTERVIEWS WITH BOB SAGET: It was surreal. When we were setting up the interview, I sent to his people some information that Bob and I had gone to school. And in setting up the interview on air, I said, Bob and I go way back. And he lived in the neighborhood where my dad sister's live and we ran into each other during the school year at this restaurant, blah, blah, blah, blah. I don't expect him to remember me. And Bob goes, oh, no, I remember you. I Googled you. I'm like, oh, Bob, you're full of it. He said, well, I'm full of something because of my age, I'm full of, and he went on. And we conducted this interview and it really turned out to be this personal chat and we just had a great time.

So, he sent me a direct message over Twitter afterwards. He says, no, I really remember you and I'm going to call you. And he calls me, and in doing so, he uses my real name. And I'm blown away because after all these years, because we went to school back in the late '70s at Temple, he really did and he starts sharing all these stories, and I could not believe it. And we picked up this conversation like we just seen each other yesterday. Candace and his daughter said he's just a real human being. I mean, you got the Hollywood Bob. You just got the Bob who is a nice guy.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Folks who remember those details, details like that, it means they care, right, in my experience. So, he talks, and you mentioned his age, being 65, with you, and seemed really positive about it.

HAMILTON: He was very positive about everything. I know that a lot of the material that he was testing out in Orallando and here in Jacksonville was material that he wanted to use in an upcoming comedy special that he hoped to tape. But the neat thing for me was that I mentioned at the conversation he and I had on the air really turned into a personal chitchat and the viewers here at Channel 4 just absolutely loved it. But the conversations he and I had over the course of two and a half days turned very personal.

And we reminisced a bit. We talked about family. We talked about a lot of different things. And he was happy. He was happy to be out on the road. And he said, you know, as an offset of COVID, he just wanted to make people happy. And the fact there was so much anger out there, he wanted to make people laugh and smile again.

He was in Orlando, drove three hours up here to Jacksonville to do his show. And I said, oh, you don't have a driver? He says, no. He says, I really spend a lot of money. I'm driving up in a Dodge, whatever it was he was driving up. And he was doing a quick turn around after the show in Jacksonville and driving back to catch an early morning flight to L.A. And I expected to hear from him before he hopped on the plane and I didn't. And I just figured it was because he was tired. I get the news that he was passed away. And, oh, it's just one of those Hollywood rumors. I couldn't believe it. And to be honest with you, I still don't.

SCIUTTO: I think a lot of us don't. Bruce Hamilton, thanks so much for sharing that very personal connection with Saget.

GOLODRYGA: That was lovely to hear. Thank you.

HAMILTON: Thanks for having me.

GOLODRYGA: Well, still ahead, it's back to business on Capitol Hill today. Democrats have a new strategy, but in an all too familiar storyline, Senator Joe Manchin threatens their plan.

SCIUTTO: And here is a look at some of the other events we're watching today.



SCIUTTO: Just moments ago, President Biden arriving back in Washington, D.C., this as Congress returns as well to action after its winter recess. [10:30:06]