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New Day

One in Four U.S Infections are Now Children in Massive Jump; Licenses of Seven Nursing Homes Revoked after Deadly Evacuations; Britney Spears' Father Files to End Her Conservatorship. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 08, 2021 - 07:00   ET



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On it, they advertise jobs, like one lucrative contract, $5,000 a month, to protect oil facilities in Venezuela. That was the bait. And we're told hundreds of Russian mercenaries actually took it.

All they had to do, according to our sources, was prove who they were and where they fought.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We started to call them and say, hey, man. Okay. Tell me something about yourself. Maybe you are not really a fighter. Maybe you are a plumber or something like that. And then they started to reveal things about themselves, sending us documents, military ids and proof of where they fought. And we are like, bingo. We can use that.

CHANCE: They're sending you evidence of who they are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they sent it to us, absolutely.

CHANCE: In fact, what followed was, according to our sources, a fountain of freely volunteered intel, not just documents and photos but potentially incriminating videos like this one, after the downing of a Ukrainian military aircraft in the eastern war zone, offered up by the fighters themselves.

All Ukrainian intelligence had to do was pick the ones it wanted, offered the lucrative Venezuela contracts, because of COVID-19 travel restrictions in Russia, assembled them neighboring Belarus to fly out. Our intelligence sources say the real plan was to land them in Ukraine and make the arrests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If these people would have ended up here in Ukraine, the details of their criminal acts would have been known around the world. Ukraine could have brought them to justice and shown that our fight with Russia is serious and that we won't raise our hands and surrender.

CHANCE: But the plan failed when the Belarusians arrested the group just hours before they were meant to leave. Could have been a stunning blow to Moscow, instead, according to our sources, a bold Ukrainian intelligence operation was foiled.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Matthew chance back with us. Matthew, that video is something to see there. How is Ukraine responding to this reporting?

CHANCE: Well, the Ukrainian government, understandably, want to put distance between themselves and this failed operation. In fact, Ukrainian intelligence officials have not responded to our requests for comment. But you know what, even if this had been a successful operation and all those Russians had been successfully captured, it would be controversial. It is unlikely either the Ukrainian or the United States government would have wanted to admit any responsibility at all, John.

BERMAN: Matthew chance, only on CNN, terrific reporting. Thank you so much.

New Day continues right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman on this New Day where hospitals are really reaching crisis mode in some states as coronavirus patients overwhelm E.R.s with more children getting sick than ever before.

BERMAN: With anti-mask protests turning ugly outside schools, one teenager is taking things into her own hands or at least one particular finger.

KEILAR: A sudden turn of events for Britney Spears. Has the pop star finally been freed from her conservatorship?

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, it is Wednesday, September 8th. And the Biden administration is ramping up its response to COVID-19 as the country is grappling with this latest surge in cases and hospitalizations. This afternoon, the president will receive an Oval Office briefing from his COVID response team ahead of his big speech tomorrow to announce an aggressive plan to stop the spread of the delta variant and to boost vaccinations, which cannot come soon enough.

Nearly 1,500 Americans are dying every day from COVID. The vast majority of them unvaccinated. Hospitalizations now nationwide among adults are down from their peak, but there are a record number of children who are now battling COVID in the hospital. Many of whom of course cannot get vaccinated yet. Children now represent more than a quarter of weekly COVID-19 cases nationwide, that's according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

BERMAN: Yes, that's a percentage we just haven't seen in this pandemic so far. And the rise in children's cases comes as kids head back to school and back to classrooms with varying degrees of protection depending on the state. Overnight, a federal judge denied a request to temporarily block Tennessee governor Bill Lee's rule that lets parents opt out of school mask mandates for their children. Last month we told you about a fiery school board meeting in Tennessee, where a father who advocated for masks was threatened by angry mask opponents while he tried to drive away. Look at this. The father's name is Michael Miller and his son just tested positive for COVID.


And Michael joins us now. His boys attend Williamson County Schools. Thank you so much for being with us this morning, Michael. I know your sixth grader has now tested positive. Let me just start by asking how he's doing.

MICHAEL MILLER, FATHER OF CHILDREN IN WILLIAMSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE SCHOOLS: Good morning. Thank you for asking. We're very fortunate his case is very minor. His symptoms are rather mild. So, he's doing okay. He's acting like himself. What started as a mild fever became at this point just some congestion and a cough.

BERMAN: Well, that's good news. But I do understand he has got a classmate who is not doing as well.

MILLER: Yes. It varies. The symptoms vary child to child and one of his classmates actually just got out of the hospital for being in the hospital for five days with COVID pneumonia.

BERMAN: That's troubling. And, look, as we're seeing the number of cases rise, we are seeing the number of hospitalizations rise among kids, which certainly is something to be concerned about. And a number of kids in your son's school have been infected?

MILLER: That's correct. So, the sixth grader is -- kids are between 11 and 12 years old. So a lot cannot be vaccinated. In the last two weeks in the school, over 20 percent of them have been infected as new cases.

BERMAN: All right. And the mask rules as they stand are the school wants you to wear masks but they can't require it. You can opt out, correct?

MILLER: That's correct. So, there's three different opt-outs but, really, the overriding opt-out at this point is executive order 84, which is the governor's order, which dictates that any school that has a mask mandate has to give an opt-out for what the superintendent aptly terms is the I don't want it clause. So, I don't want to wear a mask, so you don't have to.

BERMAN: And how many kids are masked and unmasked at your son's school?

MILLER: So, at the middle school level, it's about 30 percent. There are high schools that are up as high as 50 percent unmasked, and some of them are going to be vaccinated children. And then even at the elementary schools, we're seeing between 13 and 30 percent.

BERMAN: How does your son -- how did your son feel about going to school wearing masks? Is there a stigma to be masked and unmasked?

MILLER: In his eyes, no. So my children were both home. We had them on online school last year. And so, for him, he's excited to be back in the building and thrilled to be back with his friends. So, he has absolutely no problem with it.

Now, that stated, there are lots of children who parents have told us where they encourage masks in their home, they send the child to school with a mask and the child is not wearing a mask because some of their friends are not. So it's peer pressure. It's not that -- it would be very clear that no one is teasing anybody, that's not happening, but at least not in our schools that's not happening or that's happening elsewhere. But the kids are not donning the mask because they don't want to face the risk of being teased.

BERMAN: So, we have seen that video of you being threatened. It's really scary stuff from a month ago. When you look at this now or think back to that moment, how does seeing or knowing about this moment make you feel now that your son got COVID?

MILLER: I hate to say vindicated but some of it is that. I still -- when I see this, this is so inappropriate and so beyond the scope of what reality has become. It's reality of what's become at school board meetings, unfortunately, that you've got these mobs showing up on one side, the loud minority, is how I'd refer to them, because the silent majority wants masks, they're just not showing up. And we actually need more of those people showing up at the school board meetings and sharing their piece and writing the school board meetings and next year running for school board. We need more people who are willing to step forth and advocate for common sense. I mean, what you saw there that night was a well organized machine that you're seeing across the country.

BERMAN: I guess what I'm asking is now -- is that exactly what you're worried about is what happened exactly what you were worried about.

MILLER: 110 percent, absolutely. That's every parent's greatest fear. We kept our kids home last year to keep them safe from COVID and we send them back into school within a month here, here we go. This is Everything we tried to avoid.

BERMAN: Listen, I hope his recovery continues. I know you have got another son who has got to quarantine at home because he has got a brother who has got it.


BERMAN: Hopefully, they'll both be back in school and, hopefully, they and their friends will be as safe as they can. Michael, we really appreciate you being with us.

MILLER: Thank you.

KEILAR: Hospitals in parts of Idaho have begun rationing healthcare with patients overwhelming emergency rooms. That means that doctors can choose who to admit into the scarce number of intensive care units based on who is most likely to survive. Other patients may be placed in hospital classrooms or conference rooms because there isn't enough space or maybe there's not enough staffing.

Next door, in Oregon, hospitals are also seeing their highest number of COVID patients that they have ever seen. Just look at the chart here.

And joining us now is Dr. Brian Hoyt. He is the emergency medical director at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield, Oregon. Doctor, thank you so much for being with us.

Okay. So we're seeing this move to a crisis standard of care in neighboring Idaho.


What are you seeing? What are you doing where you are?

DR. BRIAN HOYT, EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT MEDICAL DIRECTOR, MCKENZIE- WILLAMETTE MEDICAL CENTER: Well, it's been a challenging summer already because of our nurse staffing shortages, and then just about three weeks ago, we had a huge spike in the delta variant come through our community. And we were averaging about five COVID positive patients in our hospital of 92 medical beds a day. And in about three to four days, we went up to 51 COVID positive patients in our hospital admitted with our ICU completely full, 15 beds all on ventilators and we ran out of ventilators.

We had to borrow four from a neighboring hospital. And in two days, those were being used and it's just been a real strain on the whole system. Like you had mentioned, we had to shut down the energies, open up our post-anesthesia recovery unit in order to make a second ICU for more beds. And we have expand expanded up to 110 bed capacity, but everybody is just stretched real thin. We're using all the resources we can just to try to take the best care of patients and it's getting very challenging.

KEILAR: I know that things have leveled off a little bit since this spike that you just had at the end of August, but that you're concerned that moving into the school year here, it's going to generate more cases. You know, as we talk about this, I think this is what's very scary for people but it's the reality. If things get bad enough, doctors, hospitals have to start making choices. You know, what does that look like if you get to that point?

HOYT: Well, we definitely had moments during that big surge about a week ago where we were sitting around the table in the administrative office talking about what are we going to do? We were really at the limit? We were scrambling to decide are we going to have to start deciding who gets care, not care, move patients to other parts of the state or other nearby states.

And so we did sit and talk some about the protocol and how that works. And there are plans in place to try to make the best decisions with ethical discernments and it just breaks your heart to have to have those conversations, especially when you know that the majority of these people, 90 percent of the sick people coming in, are not vaccinated and there is a treatment out there with vaccine that will lessen the severity of the surge to our whole community.

KEILAR: Yes. Look, these are -- it's unnecessary, right? Over time, I wonder, have you seen a different -- have you seen a different profile when it comes to the patients that you have coming in?

MILLER: Well, yes. I think in the first wave of COVID, it was -- we didn't have a vaccine. Healthcare workers finally got vaccinated. That helped with our security and taking care of patients. And it was pretty much all comers. But in this last delta surge at the end of the summer, it's pretty much all unvaccinated people. And some of them are in denial that they have the illness. Some of them are angry that we suggest certain treatments or that we suggest they get vaccinated when they get better.

And so it definitely has a different feel to it. We have had family members that get quite angry. We have to limit visitors and just a lot of rage and not really what we went into medicine for. We think we would have more respect and understanding. But there's just a lot of anger out there right now and I can understand it's pretty stressful, but, once again, if they would listen to the science and get vaccinated, a lot of this would not be a problem.

KEILAR: I'm so sorry. It's really hard to hear you describe that. It's sort of a thankless job and it shouldn't be because what you and your staff are doing is so heroic, getting people through this, keeping them alive, doing everything you can. And thank you so much for talking about it, Dr. Brian Hoyt.

HOYT: Thank you, guys. I appreciate you taking time to listen.

KEILAR: A high school student turning to a silent protest in the face of an anti-mask crowd, she will join us with the story behind a now viral photo.

BERMAN: And also ahead, the investigation intensifying into a series of deaths inside a Louisiana warehouse, where hundreds of nursing home residents were evacuated during Hurricane Ida.

KEILAR: And is it the end of the line for Britney Spears' long- running conservatorship? A big development overnight, as New Day continues.



KEILAR: Louisiana health officials revoking the licenses of seven nursing homes, all of them owned by one person after seven residents died following Hurricane Ida evacuations to a warehouse facility with deteriorating conditions. 911 calls depict a very chaotic scene.

CNN's Martin Savidge is live for us in New Orleans with more. This was such a huge tragedy for these folks, Martin, and now we're getting more insight into it. MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are. Good morning to you, Brianna.

This is one of the nursing homes from which people were evacuated. And, reportedly, staff members were told that they were headed to an alternate healthcare facility. You can only imagine their shock when they pulled up to a warehouse.


SAVIDGE (voice over): The deaths of seven nursing home residents at a hurricane evacuation warehouse are sparking outrage in Louisiana. New call logs obtained by CNN reveal at least 63 911 calls, including some from nursing home staff and residents shining a light on horrific conditions inside the facility.

STEPHEN RUSSO, DIRECTOR OF LEGAL, AUDIT AND REGULATORY AFFAIRS, LOUISIANA HEALTH DEPARTMENT: Let's be clear, there is no emergency preparedness plan that allows for residents to be kept in such an unsafe, unsanitary and unhealthy condition.


SAVIDGE: About 850 residents from seven nursing homes were evacuated to the warehouse just before Hurricane Ida made landfall, and Tuesday, state health officials announced the licenses of the seven nursing homes have been revoked.

In the 911 log, one caller requested emergency transport for a diabetic patient, who had not eaten due to them having no more supplies. Another 911 caller reporting a patient is having trouble breathing. Another called about a person that is having seizures. One dispatcher took a call from 66-year-old Debby Strickland who thought she had been kidnapped.

CNN later spoke to Strickland who said the staff refused to let her use her wheelchair, claiming they wouldn't let me get out of the bed or nothing. Another caller said he's at the warehouse and he's a stroke patient and he is laying on the floor and he's being treated poorly. Two nurses at the facility told CNN evacuees were crammed into the warehouse, on cots and air mattresses on the floor. They said some were caught in knee high water after a smaller building on the site flooded. And with limited electricity from a generator, switching between powering lights, air-conditioning and wall outlets, the facility was plunged into darkness in the hot, humid conditions.

The Louisiana Department of Health said inspectors were sent to the warehouse last week after being notified of the inadequate conditions but they were, quote, expelled from the property and stopped from conducting a full assessment. One nurse tells CNN, we were put in a situation that we did not know, but we handled it.

Loved ones want answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just feel guilty. If I would have known, I would have done what I did, I would have bring her with me. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why didn't you contact anybody for help, let somebody know what was going on, contact one person? People shouldn't be treated like that. You should be held accountable.

SAVIDGE: CNN hasn't been able to reach the executive of all seven nursing homes, Bob Dean, for comment. But he told CNN-affiliate WBUE, we only had five deaths within the six days and normally with 850 people, you'll have a couple a day. So we did really good with taking care of people.

The lieutenant governor of Louisiana calling the situation unthinkable.

LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER (R-LA): How can this happen after we've gone through Katrina and had those deaths in the nursing homes then and set things in place so this would never happen again? I promise you, there's going to be some changes here in Louisiana to where this could never happen again.


SAVIDGE (on camera): City of New Orleans had its own problems when it came to seniors after the storm. Five days after the hurricane, the Health Department began searching apartment buildings where it was mostly seniors that lived. What they found was very, very awful. In fact, they located seven people or five people rather who had died but they found hundreds more that had been suffering in the intense heat with no electricity and had virtually been left on their own. Brianna?

KEILAR: It's unconscionable. We knew this could happen after Katrina. It's not as if they weren't aware they needed a backup plan. Martin, thank you so much for that report.

BERMAN: So, a huge development overnight, Britney Spears' night to end her court ordered conservatorship has taken an unexpected turn. Her father and the conservator of the estate, Jamie Spears, has now filed a petition to end the arrangement.

CNN's Chloe Melas, who has been covering every twist and turn here, joins me now. And Britney's legal team claiming victory.

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Yes. So, Britney Spears' attorney, Mathew Rosengart, who -- remember, Britney Spears has had a court-appointed attorney for 13 years. Mathew Rosengart just joined this summer. He has been filing petition after petition, John, putting pressure on Jamie Spears to resign.

And there were -- there was speculation that Judge Brenda Penny at the upcoming hearing on September 29th was potentially going to suspend Jamie Spears. So, many people in the Free Britney Movement is saying, well, why is Jamie Spears filing a petition to terminate, which is amazing but at the same time not one person I've told you in her family, nobody has ever filed petition to terminate? Why do it now? Well, remember, over the summer, Britney Spears said at two different testimonies that she wanted to charge her father with conservatorship abuse. In Rosengart's statement to CNN late last night, he says that he still wants to have Jamie Spears sit down for a sworn deposition, answer questions under oath. He has questions about the finances. Also, this 112-page petition, I want to tell you, that Jamie Spears says, okay, yes, I want to step aside, my daughter should have the right to have a baby, get married, do all the things that she cried about over the summer but I need $2 million, half a million dollars for my salary, and I need all my legal fees paid for.


Rosengart saying, absolutely not, this is extortion, we're not going to pay it.

So, John, you asked me in the break, what are we going to see happen? What we're going to see happen most likely is Britney Spears being freed in a way not having the bounds of this conservatorship, but will there be a jury trial? Will Rosengart go after her father for anything potentially doing with the finances? Will they be fighting over the money for months or years to come, right? So I think that this could get uglier and I think we're still going to talk about this way past September.

BERMAN: Oh, that's interesting, a lot more to this story to come. Chloe, thank you so much for explaining this and I'm sure we will see you back again with this soon.

MELAS: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, Republicans have always said that the party of small government but with mask bans, restrictive voting laws and making abortion all but illegal in Texas, it would seem Republican government grows bigger by the day. A reality check is next.

KEILAR: All right. If you're wondering what the heck that guy is doing, well so are we. A passenger growling at flight attendants on a flight from L.A. What led to this in the skies?