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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

New Booster Expected as More Kids Get Sick from COVID; Devastating Wildfires Torch Colorado Communities; Biden Demands Military De-Escalation in Phone Call with Putin. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 31, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: COVID cases through the roof. More children in the hospital than ever before, but help is on the way. We'll tell you how.

And a devastating end of the year around Boulder, Colorado. Hurricane- force winds drive wildfires, torching hundreds of homes.

Good morning, everyone. It is Friday, December 31st. Happy New Year's Eve. It is 5:00 a.m. in New York.

Thanks so much for getting an EARLY START with me. I'm Laura Jarrett. Christine has the day off.

It is midnight in the tiny Pacific island nation, of Kiribati. So, happy New Year to the first part of the world to begin 2022.

But we begin this morning here with a glimmer of hope on the horizon when it comes to fighting COVID in kids. Right now, more children have been admitted to the hospital than any other time in the entire pandemic, many of them unvaccinated or unable to get vaccinated right now. CNN has confirmed the FDA is expected to broaden the eligibility for Pfizer's shot to children who are 12 to 15 in the coming days.


DR. LEE SAVIO BEERS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: You know, parents still have a lot of questions, and I think sometimes we're sort of holding off, wanting to see how things went. There was a recent report out today from the CDC talking about the experience so far with children who have had the vaccine, ages 5-11, reinforcing this has been a safe and effective vaccine.

So if you're a parent on the fence, I would say talk to your pediatrician, look to reputable sources for information, because I think the time is now. We want to make sure your kids stay healthy and safe.


JARRETT: So, it's always important to keep kids healthy and safe, but particularly as millions head back to school on Monday. Some areas are pushing return dates a bit more to allow for testing, but some officials are stressing the need for kids to be in physical classrooms.


DR. ALLISON ARWADY, CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Schools remain a place where you have the proper mitigations in place, schools can be open and safe.

PEDRO MARTINEZ, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS CEO: There is no evidence that at school settings that children are more at risk. In fact, the evidence is very clear that children are actually safer in schools.


JARRETT: Some colleges and universities, though, taking more precautions. Princeton and Washington University in St. Louis, both delaying in-person return. Auburn University announcing that face coverings will be required for everyone, regardless of your vaccination status.

The board of governors for the State University System of Florida, the nation's second largest public university system, now encouraging staff and faculty to wear masks and get fully vaccinated if they haven't already. Also in Florida, Miami-Dade public schools are defying Governor DeSantis by making masks mandatory for all adults inside facilities and buses. Students are strongly encouraged to mask up.


ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERITENDENT MIAMI-DADE SCHOOLS: As an educator, as a parent, I cannot abdicate my true belief in the expert advice of scientists and it is clear to us, as it is to any single reasonable scientifically oriented expert across the country and internationally that some of the recently adopted legislation and practices in the state of Florida fall short of meeting that basic standard.


JARRETT: Meantime, small businesses are feeling the pain of all of this uncertainty around the omicron variant. In Philadelphia, several restaurants and bars are shutting down for what's usually a very lucrative New Year's Eve.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I walked by and usually there's like a ton of people, kind of like today outside, so it was surprising to see it close down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The sense of making decisions as we go every day, like what is safe and what is not, what is too much. It is daunting to try to figure it out.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JARRETT: Daunting is the good word for it. "The Washington Post" reports Amtrak is reducing its schedule between New Year's Eve and January 6th, given a recent spike in virus cases among its employees. Meanwhile, the FAA telling travelers that more flights may be delayed because of all these staffing shortages. American carriers have had to cut more than 9,000 flights already, 1,000 today alone. Travel is expected to pick up this weekend. JetBlue Airways has canceled about 1,300 flights until mid-January.

So, that's on flights. But if you're thinking about taking a cruise any time soon, the CDC has a warning for you. Don't. The risk level could be higher right now but not everyone is heeding this advice.

CNN's Alexandra Field reports for us.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura, good morning. As we see COVID cases across the country hitting their highest levels ever, there is a new warning from the CDC telling people they should avoid travel by cruise.


The CDC raising the risk level of cruising to a four from a three. That is the highest risk level.

They are citing an increase in cases aboard ships. They're saying that's happened since omicron was first detected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If they say don't cruise, I wouldn't cruise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I got off my ship last week, I dreaded it, because I felt safer on the cruise ship than I do at the grocery store, theme parks, airplanes and hotels.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excited, nervous, wondering how it's all going to play out.

FIELD: If you decide you are going to ignore the recommendation and take a cruise anyway, they are saying that you should be vaccinated and boosted and that you should test both before and after you do that cruise -- Laura.


JARRETT: Alexandra, thank you for that.

The other big story this morning, a state of emergency has been declared in Colorado, after a series of wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes there. Thousands of residents have evacuated.

The towns of Superior and Lewisville have been devastated. Hurricane- force wind gusts fed these wildfires, scorching parts of the Boulder area. That sound you hear, the sound of homes collapsing, leaving families searching for shelter to start this New Year. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just devastating to see this, and this time of year and just never imagine having this happen in December. As an insurance agent, you try to do the best you can and help the clients for things like this. Never probably really thinking this is going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We first found out from our daycare in Lewisville, got a notification to come pick up the girls. After I picked up the girls, they had blocked the roads to get back to our home in downtown Superior, so I called my wife and she started collecting valuables and clothes to evacuate.


JARRETT: Some families forced to dash inside this Chuck E. Cheese as smoke and flames surrounded the area. All these cars heading out of town, look at that line. Several hospitals were forced to evacuate patients from the ICU, including labor and delivery.

One congressman tells CNN he and his family were also evacuated.


REP. JOE NEGUSE (D-CO): Clearly, it's just a devastating day for Boulder County, for our communities, for Lewisville and Superior and for the people of our state. As you said, these are unprecedented wildfires that just created a level of devastation and destruction that our state has not experienced before. The forecast calls for heavy snow to commence and we're just hoping that that will commence soon to give our firefighters and our first responders some relief as they work to try to protect our communities.


JARRETT: The choking smoke clogging the air as far as the eye can see.

CNN's Camila Bernal has more.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Laura, the high winds northwest of Denver really at the heart of these fast-moving fires, and hurricane-force winds, I want to show you what that looks like.

Take a look at this driver at the Costco parking lot. He was trying to flee and part of it was already on fire. Authorities in that area are calling the fires life-threatening. Some structures already destroyed by those flames.

And look and listen to residents evacuating the town of Superior. Wind gusts in and around boulder ranged from 78 to 115 miles per hour. Hurricane force is 74 miles per hour. Those winds downing power lines, according to the governor, and that started many of the fires, then spread them faster than the firefighters could keep up. In fact, all aircraft grounded because of the high winds, so crews were having to fight this on the ground.

Meanwhile, roads were jammed at one point and, look here as debris flies across the roadway. Many just trying to escape.

In Broomfield, Colorado, we know at least six people were injured and taken to the hospital, and another hospital evacuating all of its patients and staff.

GOV. JARED POLIS (D), COLORADO: For those who are directly affected, know that you don't stand alone. The people of Colorado stand with you. For those who don't know if they have a home to return to, our prayers are with you for a safe return. For those who lost everything that they've had, know that we will be there for you to help rebuild your lives in the state of Colorado.

BERNAL: We know that a number of shelters have been opened for those that need them and the governor has declared a state of emergency. But thankfully, the weather in Colorado is changing from those winds and fires to now snow on the forecast -- Laura.


JARRETT: Camila, thank you.

These wildfires spiraled out of control very quickly.

CNN meteorologist Gene Norman joins me now.

Gene, what causes this kind of catastrophe so quickly?


GENE NORMAN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Laura, those pictures are just amazing when you think about all that we've been seeing over the past couple of hours. And there were three main factors here. We had winds that were speeding up as they came out of the Rockies and down into the foothills, something we call wind amplification.

Also the area where the fires developed was abnormally dry and those winds acting like a bellows, basically pumping the fire and pushing it. I've seen so many videos of the fire moving. I thought it was a time lapse. It was actually in real time.

You talk about these winds, 115 miles an hour, that's the same strength as a category 3 hurricane. Hard to wrap your head around that, really. And as far as the dry conditions, all of the state of Colorado is in drought. The areas in red, boulder, including Denver, they're in the extreme level of drought. In the city of Denver they just had their first measurable snowfall earlier this month and it wasn't that much, 0.3 inches. That's nothing.

In fact, for the last six months, the total of rain and snow has been a little over an inch. So bone dry allowed those conditions to develop. And here's that snow we've been talking about, is starting to develop, showing up on the radar to the West, a big storm system that's going to affect a lot of the country.

In fact, take a look, when the snow moves into the Denver area, probably around 7:00 or 8:00 their time, and it will continue right on into early Saturday morning. It's also going to cause big severe weather problems in the eastern half of the country. We'll get to that a little bit later. As far as the snowfall amounts, anywhere from 4 to 10 inches in Denver, really the worst way to end the New Year.

JARRETT: Yeah. Well, hopefully, that snow starts to ease some of that pain.

Gene, thank you. Appreciate it.

Well, Colorado Governor Jared Polis has a lot on his plate and he's commuted the 110 year sentence of a truck driver that has captured national attention. Rogel Aguilera-Mederos' sentence now officially reduced to ten years from 110 and he will be eligible for parole at the end of 2026.

You'll remember he was driving a semi tractor-trailer at 85 miles per hour when he says his brakes failed, causing that fiery wreck that killed four people back in 2019. Governor Polis called the sentence, quote, highly atypical and unjust, but the district attorney says she's disappointed with the governor's clemency decision, claiming he acted prematurely.

Still ahead for you, do you love a deal at IKEA? Well, it's going to cost you. The latest price hikes because of the supply chain, next.



JARRETT: President Biden now calling for a military de-escalation along the Ukraine border during his phone call Thursday with Vladimir Putin. The discussion also setting the parameters for a series of high stakes security talks in Europe in January.

CNN's Nic Robertson is on the ground for us in Moscow this morning.

Nic, Biden laid out two paths for President Putin. What are they and where does this go?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITORS: Well, both sides agree that these were constructive and positive talks, and that was a positive, if you will. But I don't think we're any closer to agreement and you'll understand that when you hear President Putin to President Biden saying, look, we're going to put on you economic financial military sanctions. That's the Kremlin's read of what President Biden said and the Russian perspective, President Putin told President Biden you do that, that's going to cause a massive rupture in our bilateral relations. It will be a colossal mistake that will be felt for generations.

As for de-escalation, Putin's point was, okay, I'm going to continue with my troops where they are, just as you, the United States, would continue if Russian troops were on your border, meaning he's not about to take down his number of troops on the border with Ukraine. That's the implication.

So, you know, we're going into those talks in January, both sides have set out their sides, the options are open and it's not clear which way Putin is going on this yet.

JARRETT: I'm sure you'll be tracking that. While I have you, this is such a complicated and interesting time on the world stage. As we head into this New Year, what's the story we should be keeping an eye on?

ROBERTSON: You know, that's such a hard question to answer, isn't it? Because who has a crystal ball that can tell us what's around the corner. Iran talks are going to be problematic, this issue with Russian and tensions over Ukraine is going to rumble on and on, there's the China issue out there as well. You could look at the U.K. and Brexit issue, that's going to flair up for the U.K. and European Union. I think the big disrupter this coming year, 2022, really is the pandemic. It hasn't run its course.

There are still unexpected twists and turns. Coronavirus hasn't finished delivering up its menu of possible virus options, and China, that big element in the supply chain, it has so far held off a massive impact across the country.

But, you know, is it going to be able to continue to do that? Could it be swept up and see spiraling and rocketing numbers the same way that we're seeing in the United States and across Europe at the moment? If that happens to China, then, you know, that's going to put a bump, serious bump on the supply chain. So it's uncertainty, I think, around the pandemic is the underlying uneasy factor going through the whole year.

JARRETT: Great point. Something to watch, for sure. Nic Robertson, thank you.

Now to a lesson in doing your research. The BBC is apologizing for its decision to interview Alan Dershowitz about Ghislaine Maxwell's conviction. Maxwell was, of course, found guilty earlier this week of helping Jeffrey Epstein abuse teenage girls for years.

What the audience did not hear was that Dershowitz himself helped defend Epstein and a survivor Virginia Giuffre has accused Dershowitz of sexually abusing her when he was Epstein's lawyer. In his BBC interview, Dershowitz attacked her for her accusations against him and the Prince Andrew. After the interview, the BBC acknowledged that the segment, quote, did not meet the network's editorial standards.

All right. A quick programming note for your weekend. Friends, collaborators, legends, Carole King and James Taylor and an unforgettable concert film. "Just Call Out My Name", Sunday at 9:00, only on CNN.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

South Africa is now easing its coronavirus restrictions, just a month after the omicron variant was first detected there. The latest indicators now suggest the country may have passed the peak.

CNN's David McKenzie is on the ground for us in Cape Town, South Africa.

David, what more are you learning? How was the virus able to get controlled there?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, very little was done to control it because the restrictions were never tightened for omicron. If you look at this graph, this extraordinary rise in cases in South Africa, dominated by omicron, and then the very quick and steep fall. As you say, officials here say that it may be the end of the wave, or it's quickly receding, the threat easing in this country.

And you have this easing of restrictions, more people are allowed together. Still have to wear masks, as you can see, and for many, many months, the curfew will be dropped just in time for New Year's celebrations.

So it's generally positive news. A major study from a group of private hospitals saying they're seeing people who are in hospital because of omicron for a shorter time, fewer people, much fewer people proportionally with respiratory issues.

It's unclear if that is because of vaccination in the country or because of a large amount of people already having had COVID. Scientists also warn that it doesn't necessarily mean that the situation will be translated to the rest of the world like the U.S. and Europe, who are seeing a great deal of case increases, but it does provide a positive sign that maybe this variant isn't as bad as we had feared -- Laura.

JARRETT: That is certainly the hope. So far the numbers in Europe just haven't born that out.

David, thank you for your reporting.

Now to this remarkable story of a Chicago teacher who spent three hours in an airplane bathroom after testing positive for COVID -- get this -- mid-flight.


Marisa Fotieo was on an Iceland air flight to Reykjavik earlier this month. She tells CNN, she took two PCRs and five rapid tests. They all came back negative. But 90 minutes into the flight she developed a sore throat and took another test just to be sure.

Sure enough, it was positive, so she isolated herself in the bathroom to keep the other 150 passengers safe. The flight attendant put an out of service sign on the door. Thanks to her quick thinking.

Well, of all the post-game celebrations you've ever seen, this is one to forget. They call it the mayo bowl. What did you expect? More of this appropriate end to 2021, next.


JARRETT: That's a sound the U.K. hasn't heard in four years. Big Ben last bonged on August 21st, 2017, before undergoing some much-needed repairs. The clock company has been cleaning the face, chiming device and about 1,000 other parts. The five tongue clock will be returning to service to ring in the New Year tonight.

EARLY START continues right now.


JARRETT: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett. It's about 29 past the hour here in New York. The New Year is bringing new challenges in the fight against this pandemic.

Pediatric hospital admissions in the U.S. are the highest they have ever been. Many of the children are unvaccinated with schools set to begin next week. Now, Pfizer another step closer to vaccinating America's kids.

CNN's Tom Foreman reports for us.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Laura, probably the biggest news is this pending approval by the FDA of booster shots for kids from the age of 12 to 15 years old. Will there be that many people in the country? No, it's a vulnerable population.