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New Day Saturday

Child Hospitalizations Hit Record Highs Amid Omicron Surge; Jan. 6 Committee Considering Asking Pence to Appear Before Panel; Hospitals Face Staffing, Bed Shortages as COVID Cases Surge; GA Governor Loosens COVID Protocols for Public School Teachers; 340,000 Chicago Students Caught in Standoff Over COVID Measures; Report: Djokovic Told He Could Go to Australia Without Issue. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired January 08, 2022 - 08:00   ET



JASON MOON, FOUNDER, WARRIOR SONGS: This is exactly how I feel. And that's when the -- my healing really begins.

Warrior Songs is a nonprofit that uses the creative arts to help bring healing to veterans. We take a songwriter and we put them with, with a veteran, they take the trauma, they transform it into the song, what happens to the veteran is nothing short of a transformation because they've had a trauma that they couldn't express.

We've worked with about 250 veterans in the songwriting, and we've given services to about 50,000 veterans through the free CDs we could play. When they spoke their truth, it lives on beyond them and it's actually getting into the darkest places.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Take a nice deep breath here, weekend is upon you. We're glad to have you here. I'm Christi Paul.


Rising COVID cases hospitals being pushed to the breaking point and bitter confrontations, again for how to keep kids safe in school. The Biden administration now working to reassure Americans, as the CDC faces a credibility crisis.

PAUL: And it's fight per democracy. More than a year after the deadly January 6 riot, the committee investigating the insurrection is considering asking former Vice President Mike Pence to appear voluntarily before the panel.

SANCHEZ: Plus, more than 100 mayors pending a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to take action on voting rights. We'll hear from one of those mayors, live.

PAUL: Also new developments in the case of tennis star Novak Djokovic, who's being held in a detention facility in Australia. What we're learning this morning from newly released court documents.

Welcome to your weekend. We are so grateful to see you through the lens so to speak. Thank you for waking up with us. Hey, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Christi. Good morning. It is Saturday, January 8.

And we start with growing concern for our nation's kids as the Omicron variant fuels a surge in hospitalizations. Federal data shows a record level of COVID hospitalizations among kids averaging nearly 800 new hospital admissions a day. You can see on this chart, it's the highest it's ever been an 80 percent increase in just one week.

PAUL: Wow, 80 percent. States across the country are facing -- are racing I should say to face some staffing shortages they're dealing with as more frontline workers calling out sick or they're under quarantine due to COVID exposure. And with child hospitalizations hitting new records, disputes over in person learning are playing out across several school districts in this country.

CNN's Polo Sandoval has been looking at all of this. Polo, what is the latest from your vantage point? And good morning to you.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Christi, Boris, good morning to you.

We're seeing it all over the country. You have businesses, workplaces schools, as you mentioned, they are essentially reinstituting and reintroducing many of those measures we've seen before to try to curb that Omicron spread right now. Give you an example here in New York, we just heard from Kathy Hochul yesterday who reintroduced a new wave of measures stricter masking, testing at nursing homes and for healthcare workers in the state people who haven't been boosted, they're not required to do so.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): It's been a week of clashes, confrontations and a lot of angst over schools reopening. Chicago, the largest school district in the nation with classes and limbo, that's because of a standoff between the teachers union and Chicago public schools. The union insisting on virtual learning while the mayor is pushing for schools to stay open.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D-IL), CHICAGO: I think we've made significant progress over the last few days. But I want to deal done this weekend. Our kids need back -- be back in school schools are safe.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): In Georgia, public school teachers who test positive for COVID-19 but remain asymptomatic no longer have to isolate before returning to school have masked and contact tracing and schools no longer required. That's according to a letter to school leaders released Thursday from Governor Brian Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey.

And in New York, nearly 13 percent of New York City students have tested positive for COVID-19. That's according to sample testing from the New York City Department of Education on Thursday. Health experts say the U.S. needs to change its COVID-19 strategy to face a new normal. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, FMR MEMBER, BIDEN'S TRANSITION COVID-19 ADVISORY BOARD: The new normal is the way we live with flu. We're going to live with the coronavirus, it's going to be around, people are going to get infected. But hopefully few people will be hospitalized, and even fewer people will die from it. And we'll be able to go about our lives as we did before.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): The FDA has now amended the emergency use authorization for Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine shortening the period of time between initial vaccination and the booster shot to at least five months for those over the age of a team. Meanwhile, experts say vaccines need to evolve.


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CIDRAP: What we need is, first of all improve on our vaccines. And you're going to see a lot of work being done to try to get us what we call the next generation vaccines. Over the course of the next weeks, to months, is a much more widescale availability of these very effective drugs, if given early in the illness can actually greatly reduce the likelihood of severe disease, hospitalizations and deaths.

But so if you combine vaccines and drugs together, I think we really can put a big dent in this virus not just in high income countries, but around the world.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Nearly two-thirds of the eligible U.S. population now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 according to the CDC. A top health expert said in order to get to a place where the coronavirus is endemic like the flu, the U.S. has a lot to do.

EMANUEL: We have to get to a situation where what we're seeing it from coronavirus, is not big surges. We need many more people vaccinated in this case. We need additional therapies, not just the couple of oral therapies we currently have. We need to upgrade our air filtration system. We got to get the prevalence down and then we'll get be able to get to a new normal.


SANDOVAL: So, like yesterday, we learned the California becoming one of the latest states to deploy its National Guard to try to help with its COVID response. We're talking about 200 Guard members deploying across about 50 sites to try to expand COVID testing. That's where the big priority is Christi and Paul.

Also, backfilling clinical staff absence as well, no doubt, Omicron also playing a factor there as well.

SANCHEZ: Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

PAUL: So, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol they're considering asking former Vice President Mike Pence to appear before it. SANCHEZ: Remember, Pence certified the 2020 presidential election despite an extensive pressure campaign led by former President Donald Trump and his allies trying to halt the process.

CNN's Annie Grayer joins us now. Annie, what more can you tell us about this potential next step by the committee to get Mike Pence to testify?

ANNIE GRAYER, CNN REPORTER: The chairman told our team earlier this week that they want to hear directly from Mike Pence. Pence is really crucial to the committee's investigation. And here's why. Like you mentioned Pence certified the presidential election, despite a really intense pressure campaign from Trump and his allies. That pressure campaign who was involved how deep it went, is a really big focus of the committee that Pence can provide key testimony on.

Pence was also at the Capitol on the day of the attack. So, he can provide his account of what he saw that day as the violence started to unfold. And he also was at the White House and privy to a lot of important conversations that could fill in a lot of holes for the committee in their investigation.

Now, the -- Chairman Thompson told our team that the committee will be meeting this week to discuss next steps about issuing this voluntary request for Pence to come testify. And notice this is not a subpoena. This is not a legally binding request that the committee is done with other witnesses. This would -- this is just voluntary to start this process. But the committee really does want to hear from Pence. And in the meantime, sources tell us that multiple Pence aides have been cooperating with the committee and providing key testimony to their investigation.

PAUL: So, let me ask you about this because the committee has said that they're not ruling out the possibility that Trump's actions amounted to a crime, what do we know about the potential to actually prosecute something like that if it would come down to a scenario of that nature.

GRAYER: So, we know that what Trump was doing on the days leading up to the attack and specifically on the day of the attack is a key investigative thread for the committee. Specifically, they have talked multiple times about wanting to learn more about the 187 minutes between when the violence started on Capitol Hill. And when Trump put out a message calling on his supporters to go home and stop the violence. Committee members have said that they think Trump has to take -- took way too long to call off the violence and call of his supporters. They say they have firsthand testimony, combination of interviews, documents, text messages from allies of former President Trump to Fox News, personality hosts, like Sean Hannity, who the committee separately wants to hear from and even members of his own family like Ivanka, his daughter, calling on Trump to intervene and stop the violence.

But that's a long way off from having evidence that the -- that Trump committed a crime. It's important to know that the committee does not have the power to criminally prosecute Trump or anyone in their investigation. Their job is to get to the bottom of the facts that would have what happened. If they do come across crimes in their investigation, their job is to turn that over to the Department of Justice, who would then have to decide if they want to prosecute.


So, as you can see, we're a long way off from talking about Trump and crimes related to January 6, but this is clearly a topic that committee members want to talk more about and focus on.

PAUL: Alrighty. Annie Grayer, thank you so much for bringing us the latest. We appreciate it.

GRAYER: Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Annie.

PAUL: Sure. And we'll make sure you know you can join Fareed Zakaria as he investigates the fight to save American democracy. It's a new special beginning tomorrow at 9:00 p.m.

SANCHEZ: We want to pivot back to coronavirus now because his COVID cases surge across the country, doctors are warning that now is not the time to relax. Colorado's emergency medical services just reactivated crisis standards of care, protocols that health care providers assist those who need it most during public health emergencies. Doctors in Kansas say they might soon have to do the same.

One of those doctors is Stephen Stites, he joins us now live. He's the Chief Medical Officer for the University of Kansas Health System.

Doctor, thank you so much for getting up early for us. We appreciate your time. Help us understand what it would take to cross over the tipping point for you to implement those crisis standards of care?

STEPHEN STITES, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, UNIV. OF KANSAS HEALTH SYSTEM: You bet. I think our challenges that we have obviously a lot of COVID patients, lots of hospitalizations, and we're impacted by the coronavirus in our staff, so we have a lot of people who are out sick. That's even true in our ambulance services. For example, in our rural access hospital, a Great Bend Hospital, we had a patient in an emergency room, we couldn't get an ambulance crew to transport that patient from Great Bend back to Kansas City, because too many people were out ill as a result, that patient stayed in an emergency room didn't get the appropriate level of care and died in route during transport.

Its things like that, that say to us, we're not at normal. We're nowhere near normal. We're getting very close to a crisis standard.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And just so that folks at home understand it, you've described these standards as having to essentially let some people die in order that others might have a chance to live. Help us understand exactly what these crisis standards entail. What goes into those really dire decisions? STITES: You bet. You know, one of our challenges is that it's not a simple on off switch, it's a grey zone, you go from normal operations to contingency and contingency planning means I'm going to have to put patients in usual situations, I have to cancel surgeries. But at some point, you say we're too overwhelmed to do any of our normal daily work, we can't even meet all of our patient's demands. And at that point, we have to turn on a switch that says, we got to triage to the people we can help the most. That means we have to let some people die, who we might have been able to help but we weren't sure about they were too far gone, or they they're had too much of an injury. Or maybe we can't get to that trauma that just came in.

And so, I think it's that grey zone in between. What would take is if we have too many more COVID patients, or if we lose too many more of our staff to being sick with COVID.

SANCHEZ: Yes, this actually isn't the first time that your region has been hit hard by COVID. As we've seen all over the country, these variants come in waves, what's different about what you're facing now as opposed to a few months ago, or even more than a year ago?

STITES: You know, our challenge is this, it's several fold first cold weather hit. Second, we don't have mask mandates. And so, we had a lot of public indoor gatherings. And we say we have two waves at once, because the Delta wave had really accelerated here after Thanksgiving, and then it got met by the Omicron wave. If you look at our community, we've probably just moved from 50-50 Omicron and Delta to a little bit more Omicron. But our hospitalizations are still being driven by the Delta wave. And we believe that's true, because we know that hospitalizations tend to lag behind the acute rise in cases.

So right now, most of our hospitalizations reflect Delta, lots of patients. At the same time our staff are being hit by Omicron. And all the other reasons for this seasonal flu and things like that, that will keep them from working. It is for us almost a double pandemic. And that's really the challenge keeping people healthy so we can keep our patients healthy.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And Doctor just to clarify for those at home that may still be on the fence about this, I'm almost certain what your answer is going to be. But I'm curious to get specifics on the experience. And the difference between those patients you're seeing that are unvaccinated and those that are vaccinated.

STITES: Oh, gosh, there's just such we've all heard about it. And people think I just don't want that to be true. The reality it's more true than it has ever been. Eighty to 90 percent of patients who come into our hospital are unvaccinated, 95 percent of our patients who are in the intensive care unit are unvaccinated, and 99 percent of the people who are on a ventilator or who die are unvaccinated. There's no question.


You can say what you want people to make up whatever news they want. The reality is with reality is. Unvaccinated patients, unvaccinated people are the folks who are most at risk.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And sadly, that reality as we've seen too far, often during this pandemic, it settles in once it is too late. Dr. Stephen Stites, we appreciate your perspective in time, sir. Thank you.

STITES: Thank you.

PAUL: So more than 150 mayors are calling for immediate action on voting rights, and one of them the mayor of Columbus, Ohio joins us next to explain why he feels this issue has to be addressed now.

Also, prosecutors declined to pursue a forcible touching charge against former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Why was it important yesterday? Will tell you, ahead this hour.



SANCHEZ: President Biden is set to deliver a speech on voting rights during a visit to Atlanta next week. And it comes as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set a deadline of January 17th, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the Senate to vote on a rules change if Republicans continue to block the legislation. The bills would curtail the effects of new voting laws passed by 19 states that restrict access to the ballot.

Now, a bipartisan group of 151 mayors from across the country is urging Senate leaders to take action writing in part, quote, voting rights are under historic attack and our very democracy is threatened. These bills would stop this voter suppression.

One of the mayors who signed on to the letter is with us this morning, Mayor Andrew Ginther of Columbus, Ohio. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us this Saturday.

The House passed national voting rights legislation last year, the Senate though, hasn't moved on it despite these new assurances from leadership. What's your message to the U.S. Senate?

MAYOR ANDREW GINTHER (D-OH), COLUMBUS: America's the greatest country on the face of the planet and when more Americans vote, America works better. We believe we ought to be doing everything in our power. We know that President Biden got more votes than any other presidential candidate in history. And Donald Trump received the second most amount of votes. We ought to be celebrating that the amount of folks that came out and turned out and voted. And we have bipartisan elections groups that oversee our elections around the state.

Former President Trump won Ohio by eight points twice. There is no dispute. We have all accepted that. We also know that President Biden won critical states throughout the country as well. You know, here in the heartland, we reject the big lie, we rejected the Loch Ness monster, and we reject Bigfoot. We focus on facts and evidence, and we believe the best way is encouraging more people to vote, not restricting access. We know that's when America works best. And that's why you have a bipartisan group, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Republicans and Democrats urging passage of the John Lewis Act immediately.

SANCHEZ: At this point, Mayor, I think there's more evidence of Nessie being out there, then there is a widespread election fraud. We should know the only path toward this legislation is changing the filibuster and Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, they've indicated they're against a rules change. What happens for local officials like you if this vote fails?

GINTHER: Well, we've been very successful working in a bipartisan manner, U.S. Conference of Mayors was critical in passing the CARES Act, the Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan. So, we're going to continue to work and advocate Republicans and Democrats working together, because our elections are the real foundation of this democracy.

And we need to do everything in our power to make sure we're doing everything we can to get more Americans to vote and participate. America works better when more people are participating. And so, we've got to restrict and go after efforts to restrict access to the ballot.

SANCHEZ: There are lawmakers in your state, though that disagree. The Republican Secretary of State in Ohio Franklin Rose, he argues that the National Voting Rights Bill is a way to sidestep state sovereignty. Your Republican Senator Rob Portman, he says that these proposals amount to a federal takeover of the election system. What do you say to the argument that elections are stronger when they are designed and executed at the local level instead of federally?

GINTHER: Well, as long as they're not restricting access, I mean, some of the proposals here in Ohio are restricting in-person voting, the ability to mail-in ballots, the period of time that folks can vote early. We ought to be doing everything in our power to get more folks to vote, Republicans, Democrats, independents unaffiliated, we want more people voting and participating in democracy. And that's why it's so important that we have the John Lewis Act.

Our Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, who's the president of Congressional Black Caucus has been spearheading this effort. And we want to make sure there's uniform level playing field across the country. We want more people voting and participating in the process, and not allowing folks to weaponize the elections process and places around the country.

SANCHEZ: So, what is at risk for voters in Ohio if some of those proposals ultimately wind up passing?

GINTHER: Well, you know, some of the provisions here in House Bill 387 would require all voters to register to vote in-person that eliminate no excuse absentee ballot. Absentee voting limit the forms of acceptable photo ID, shorten the state's early voting period, and ban mail ballots returned via Dropbox from being counted. I mean, the bottom line is these are blatantly political in this state and in other states around the country and it's the worst kind of injustice. There is not anything more sacred to our country than the right to vote and we have to fight to protect it everywhere around America.


SANCHEZ: A powerful message. Mayor Andrew Ginther, thank you so much.

GINTHER: Thank you.

PAUL: Three hundred forty thousand kids in Chicago are waiting this morning, find out if they need to show up at their schools on Monday morning. The mayor says the doors have to be open. The teachers union disagrees on that. We'll talk about it. Stay close.



SANCHEZ: This morning, the debate over coronavirus safety measures in schools is yet again heating up as the CDC reports a record number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 here in the United States.

PAUL: Yes. In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp has loosened protocols despite the surge telling school leaders that contact tracing isn't required any longer and changing isolation policies for asymptomatic teachers and school staff. CNN's Nadia Romero's live in Atlanta with the latest. So, Nadia, talk to us about what's happening there.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, Christi and Boris, we're hearing from the Governor releasing a statement saying that teachers can go back to the classroom even if they've tested positive for COVID-19. Even if they are still infected, as long as they're asymptomatic and they wear a mask. The Governor is basically saying that he wants those teachers and students back in the classroom for in-person learning.

So, modifying those guidelines. Even though those guidelines coming from the Governor's office contradicts what we're hearing from the CDC, their new updated guidelines saying that you should still isolate, quarantine yourself for at least five days if you're asymptomatic, then you can go back and wear a mask.

So those school districts though in the state of Georgia are still allowed to make up their own rules for what they feel is fit. And so here at the Atlanta public schools, starting on Monday, they will go back to in-person learning but they will also start requiring those mandatory testing at least twice a week for teachers and voluntary testing for students who have parental consent. And that testing it point is key for a lot of teachers and students and school districts all across the country.

Take Chicago right now. They're dealing with really what we're calling -- we're hearing people call a crisis there because so many kids, 550 schools, about 340,000 school kids in the city of Chicago, out of school for a third consecutive day because of the rising COVID-19 cases.

So, listen to what the Teachers Union President says he wants to see happen. So that teachers like him feel safe going back into the classroom.


JESSE SHARKEY, PRESIDENT, CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION: If you want to get us back into the schools quicker, provide testing, you know, do what D.C. is done, do what New York is done, do what Los Angeles has done, do what Cleveland has done. Do what the private school the mayor sends her own children -- own childhood, provide a test for -- so people are negative and they come back into the school. And then it's set up a meaningful screening testing program.


ROMERO: And that's exactly what we're hearing out in the bay area as well. San Francisco Oakland teachers, they're organizing a sick out yesterday. They're demanding more masks more testing and for the school districts to address the critical staffing shortages that they've been experiencing due to all of the COVID-19 cases and people who've been exposed to the virus. So, this is an issue we're seeing all across the country. Christi, Boris?

PAUL: Nadia, we appreciate it so much. Thank you for bringing us the latest there.

So, let's think about this. It's Saturday morning. Still, no one knows if students in Chicago will have in-person class on Monday because city officials and the Teachers Union just cannot agree on a reopening plan here. The mayor and other city leaders we know are pushing for students to return to in-person learning. The Union voted to go remote. So, the district canceled classes and now parents and students were clearly the other ones caught in the middle.

Nader Issa is a reporter with The Chicago Sun-Times and with us now. Nader, it's good to have you with us. Thank you for being here. So, we know that, you know, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, these are all big cities, big school districts that are back. What specifically is the point of contention in Chicago?

NADER ISSA, REPORTER, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: So, there are about two or three big issues right now between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union. You touched on one already testing. The Chicago Teachers Union wants all students and staff to return a negative test before coming back. They're worried about the city's Omicron surge.

We're in the midst of our biggest wave of the pandemic right now. So, they want everyone to test negative before coming back. And then they want more widespread screening testing going forward in the schools. The program that the district has set up right now, only a small percentage of students are actually signed up to test and they want to expand that going forward.

The other big issue is a metric to close down to school. So, there's been this year so far, relatively few cases. This past week was the highest rate of infections in the district. About 2,000 teachers and students reported positive cases. That's about half a percent of all 270,000 students, 40,000 employees at non-charter schools. So, it's a low percentage.


But the issue is those close contacts are in quarantine. So, a lot of schools are reporting a third half of their students and teachers would have been at home anyway this week. So, the union wants to sort of set a threshold, if 30 percent of teachers are out because of COVID, the school closes down.

PAUL: So, let me ask you this because we know how detrimental remote learning can be to kids, not just to kids, but to teachers. I mean, everybody wants to be back in the classroom, but the loneliness and the isolation that sets in can be really quite harmful. We've heard about that for quite some time now. So, with that said, do you get the sense that, that that part of it is coming into play when they're having these negotiations?

ISSA: Yes. If you listen to the mayor at her press conferences, her whole argument is that remote learning is harmful to students. We saw the impact last year, and I don't think any teacher will disagree with you. If you ask teachers right now, there were a lot of mixed feelings about this vote. They want safety, and they want to be in school, and no one wants to be home.

Remote learning wasn't beneficial for anyone, but they want to make sure during the city's -- the city's record surge, that they're safe in schools. And one piece of it that the mayor points to is that 92 percent of all teachers and Chicago Public Schools are vaccinated. So that's certainly something to take a look at.

When you look at Chicago Public Schools students, it's more like a third of the 12 to 17 age group -- excuse me, two-thirds of the 12 to 17 age group, and about a quarter of the five to 11 group that's vaccinated. And so, it's a question that's coming into play as they want to go back.

PAUL: OK. We know that they're working through the weekend. Is there any indication that they're going to have an answer to this by Sunday?

ISSA: You never know. I was just talking the other day. The two sides -- this is their third labor dispute in the past three years, that's disrupted classes. There was a teacher strike in 2019, just before the pandemic, and then a similar situation last year with reopening negotiations. They never seem to be too far apart to start, and then it somehow drags on.

I wouldn't be surprised if there's a deal sometime this afternoon, or if it drags on to the 18th, like the union is expecting. It's just -- they're still a bit away. There's some disagreements left on testing on whether to do an opt-out program where students default to in- school testing and parents are notified and can opt them out which the Mayor Lightfoot the other day called morally repugnant. She said she thinks parents should be able to give their express written consent to testing before their students are opted in. And so, there's still a bit of negotiations left.

PAUL: Obviously. OK, but they're working through the weekend. We know they want to knock this out.

Nader Issa with Chicago Sun-Times, we appreciate you being here. Thank you.

ISSA: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: The family of Novak Djokovic says that Australia is treating the multimillionaire tennis star like a prisoner over his vaccination status. The latest in a dramatic saga ahead of the Australian Open after a few short minutes. Stay with us.



SANCHEZ: We have some new developments to share with you in the bizarre ongoing situation involving tennis star Novak Djokovic. Core documents revealing the 34-year-old is unvaccinated and had a bout with COVID less than a month ago, going back to December 16th.

PAUL: Now despite that, new evidence reportedly shows that he was told he would still be allowed to travel to and play in the Australian Open. Coy Wire is with us. Coy, makes sense out of this to us here. Would you please?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christi, it's tough to follow. Good morning to you and Boris. The world number one, Novak Djokovic, he traveled to Melbourne on the premise that he had a valid medical exemption to compete and defend his Aussie Open title, but what tournament officials told him is not flying with the government.

A letter reportedly sent by Tennis Australia on December 7th leaked to local press yesterday, tells unvaccinated players they could receive a medical exemption to enter the country as long as they had a confirmed case of COVID within the previous six months and a doctor's note. Well, all this despite the fact that the government sent a letter to Tennis Australia in November saying that that would not suffice.

Court documents released yesterday show that Djokovic tested positive for COVID three weeks ago and even received a letter from the tournament's chief medical officer nine days ago saying that he had the exemption. But when Djokovic arrived in Melbourne yesterday, his visa was canceled. He's been confined to the hotel there ever since he has been told that he could leave the country if he wants. Djokovic has made repeated requests to be moved to a more suitable location where he could train, et cetera, but he's been denied that.

Earlier this week, his mom said he's been being treated like a prisoner. Some players like Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios, say this is all gone too far.


NICK KYRGIOS, WORLD NO. 93 PLAYER: You know, obviously, it's a bit of a mess of what's going on. And I just don't think we've gone about it the right way. That's just my opinion. I don't want to speak too much on it because it seems to be what everyone's speaking about, like media is speaking about. It's just too much at this point.


Honestly, I hope that it will get sorted as soon as possible. But I just wanted to end, and I want luck -- I don't know, (INAUDIBLE) like, it's not really humane, is it, what's going on.


WIRE: Now, other players though, like superstar Rafael Nadal said earlier this week that they understand that Djokovic knew the country's policies for entry regarding COVID, were strict. And that he could have been playing in Australia without a problem if he wanted.

Now, a court decision on whether the 20-time Grand Slam champ will be allowed to stay in the country. He's expected to come Monday. Boris, Christi, the Australian Open is set to begin one week later and this just in from the press office of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He tells CNN that Czech tennis star Renata Voracova has left Australia under her own volition has nothing to do with deportation. It just has to do with her unwillingness to continue to compete or to try to compete in the Australian this -- due to complications with her visa. So, as for now, it appears Djokovic is still going to stay and try to compete in the tournament.

SANCHEZ: And COVID just keeps making things more and more complicated. Coy Wire, thanks for walking us through that.

WIRE: You got it.

PAUL: Thanks, Coy.

SANCHEZ: Stay with CNN. We'll be right back.



PAUL: OK, let's check some of the top stories for you now at 51 minutes past the hour. Evacuations and road closures, they've been ordered for parts of Washington State. They are seeing record rain and snow causing flooding and landslides.

Look at some of these pictures. Drivers stranded there. This is in Lewis County after flash flooding. National Guard was deployed to help out. Rivers in the area reached record or near record heights yesterday.

SANCHEZ: Meantime in Leavenworth, Washington, the mayor declaring the city a disaster after 36 inches of snow fell in less than 24 hours. Emergency crews in Seattle rescued a man after his home slid off its foundation trapping him inside. Heavy rains triggered this landslide, it knocked the home 15 to 20 feet down a hill.

And then at the same time, you saw the flames there. A ruptured propane tank started to fire. Firefighters say a woman inside the home was able to get out on her own. Sadly, one of their dogs died and other is still missing.

PAUL: Well airlines have canceled more than 1,000 U.S. flights today. So, if you are traveling, please check your itinerary. The website says a lot of them were on the east coast here. Both the Omicron variant and a fast-moving snowstorm are the big impacts of this region. The latest wave push the total of canceled flights by all airlines since Christmas to more than 28,000.

SANCHEZ: Women's singles champion Naomi Osaka had to withdraw from a preliminary tournament in Melbourne due to what she called an abdominal injury. Osaka was heading into the semi-finals of the WTA tournament but so that playing back-to-back matches was a shock to her body after taking an extended break from tennis. She said she would now rest up in preparation to defend her Australian Open title.

PAUL: And the President and First Lady will be in Las Vegas, Nevada today to attend funeral services for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And remember, Reid died late last month at 82 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The President who served with Reid in the Senate will deliver remarks and former President Obama is also expected to deliver Reid's eulogy.

A judge in New York has dismissed the only criminal charge faced by former Governor Andrew Cuomo.

SANCHEZ: You'll recall, Cuomo resigned in August after an investigation concluded that he sexually harassed several women. The former governor has consistently denied the allegations against him. CNN's Brynn Gingras has more.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Boris and Christi, that hearing lasting only about 10 minutes and the former Governor Andrew Cuomo actually only appearing on camera in that virtual hearing for only a few seconds to acknowledge that he was there. And the judge moving forward essentially dropping the single misdemeanor forcible touching charge that was against him. This is something that we were expecting.

As we saw earlier this week, the Albany County District Attorney David Soares, filed a motion saying that he did not think he could pursue that single charge, essentially saying the accuser in this was cooperative and credible. However, he did not think that he would be able to meet the burden of proof needed to win this case in court. Again, this was something that we were expecting.

Cuomo's attorney also filed a motion later in the week saying that they were looking to drop that charge as well. And so that's what the judge did moving forward saying, the superior courts have long and consistently held. That courts may not and should not interfere with the discretion of a district attorney. This was the single charge that we've actually seen come out since that scathing Attorney General's report where 11 women accused the former governor of sexual harassment. Of course, he's denied all those allegations.

So, it's possible that the Cuomo camp could see this as a win. In fact, they had a news conference shortly after the hearing saying that justice really has prevailed essentially. We do know that district attorneys in other counties have also decided not to move forward with charges with separate allegations.

However, he's not totally in the clear. We know that there are two probes still ongoing federally by the -- against Andrew Cuomo. One, dealing with a nursing home situation and one dealing with sexual harassment allegations. So, it's not over yet.

But I will say that the Cuomo camp did release a statement after the hearing essentially saying at the end, stay tuned. So, who knows where we go from here. However, we do know in response to the single charge being dropped. We got a statement from the accuser in this, Brittany Commisso, a former aide for the Governor who said the only thing she has any power over is her resolution to continue to speak the truth and seek justice and appropriate civil action which she will do in due course.


That coming prior to the hearing actually happening we actually ever heard from her or her attorney since. But there you go very likely that we'll see more of the battle of this in civil court. Christi and Boris?

PAUL: All right, Brynn Gingras, we appreciate it. Thank you. We'll be right back.

SANCHEZ: Before we go, a quick programming note. Make sure to join Fareed Zakaria as he investigates "The Fight to Save American Democracy", a new special beginning tomorrow at 9:00 p.m.

PAUL: When I said we'd be right back, I guess I mean it.

SANCHEZ: Yes, right. And we're going to be back one hour from now. We're so grateful that you joined us this morning.

PAUL: Yes. Stay with us though. Smerconish is up with you next.