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New Day Sunday

Omicron Variant Fuels Christmas Weekend Chaos As New Cases Surge; Major U.S. Airlines Cancel 1,000-Plus Flights Christmas Weekend; Archbishop Desmond Tutu Has Died At Age 90; Biden Administration Struggles With COVID Heading Into 2022; Military Families Want Answers After Diesel Found In Drinking Water; After Being Benched Last Year, Sports Return In 2021. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired December 26, 2021 - 07:00   ET


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: We begin this morning with the surge of new COVID cases now nationwide fueled by the omicron variant, even though early research indicated the new strain may cause less severe illness, health care resources in some parts of the country are already stretched thin.


Twelve states have seen a 10 percent uptick in COVID hospitalizations over the past week, with more than 71,000 Americans currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

And the surge is causing major disruptions for airline travelers this Christmas weekend as hundreds of U.S. flights have already been canceled just this morning.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov has more. Come and behold


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Americans celebrated another Christmas during a pandemic, many saw holiday joy turn to frustration. With Omicron cases on the rise across the nation, airlines canceling more than 1,000 flights this holiday weekend citing COVID staffing shortages and bad weather, leaving passengers in limbo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God. We won't be able to get home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been constantly checking all kind of different websites, you know, the airport site, the airlines site.

KAFANOV: From coast to coast on Christmas morning, those who did plan to see loved one, taking no chances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My girlfriend tested positive earlier this week and, you know, it's Christmas morning, I'm trying to see my family and, you know, they're real COVID conscious. I'm vaxxed and boosted. But we're trying to be safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm getting tested because I'm seeing my family today. KAFANOV: That is those lucky enough to get a test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The line goes all the way back there. We've been here two hours.

KAFANOV: Others saw their Christmas plans wiped out by a COVID diagnosis.

BRIAN GODDARD, TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID: I tested positive for COVID. So, currently just hanging out at the apartment by myself.

ASHLEY LAWSON, TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID: I was devastated that I was going to have to miss the holidays.

KAFANOV: The surge in cases leaving many medical workers and personnel stretched thin with little to celebrate.

DR. DAVID CUSTODIO, PRESIDENT, SUMMA HEALTH SYSTEM, AKRON: It's literally devastating and heartbreaking that we are in this condition that we are now.

DR. ANDREA ROWLAND-FISHER, HENNEPIN HEALTHCARE: Hospitalization at Twin Cities are overwhelmed and unable to take new patients because we're bursting at our seams already.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have a time for a prayer for frontline workers, I would -- I would do that.

KAFANOV: To boost the depleted workforce, the CDC issued new guidance for vaccinated asymptomatic health care workers, to slash their quarantine from 10 down to 7 days. Doctors hopeful that the omicron wave will soon pass.

DR. STEVEN MCDONALD, EMERGENCY MEDICAL PHYSICIAIN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY IRVING MEDICAL CENTER: I am hopeful in that the data coming out of the UK and out of South Africa showing that these patients infected with omicron are much less likely to be hospitalized and much less likely to be severely ill. And so that alone is giving me a little bit of faith that 2022 will be a meaningfully different year.

KAFANOV: A hope likely shared by all on this Christmas weekend.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Los Angeles.


SANCHEZ: Our thanks, Lucy.

More flights as we noted are being canceled this morning. According to the tracking website FlightAware, so far, more than 2,000 flights for today have been canceled worldwide, and that includes more than 600 originating or headed to U.S. airports.

CNN national correspondent Nadia Romero has more on these Christmas weekend flight disruptions.


NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: More than a thousand flights canceled Christmas weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and we're seeing airlines like delta with almost 300 cancellations on Christmas Day, and that has had an impact for travelers all across the country. We're seeing those impacts, too, internationally with some of those flights being canceled as well.

So, here at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, we definitely saw a slower Christmas morning because of some of those cancellations and because of the omicron variant. The delta airlines and other airlines are telling us that their cancellations are largely due to the variant and flight crews not able to fly, exposed to COVID- 19 or testing positive for the virus. We also know that some of those cancellations are due to weather.

So, behind me you can see some people are here at the airport, but nothing like what we saw during Thanksgiving. We were breaking pre- pandemic levels in 2019.

Now, we have more people traveling according to the TSA on Christmas Eve, this Christmas Eve, compared to Christmas Eve of 2020, but not as many as 2019. That may be due to some of the cancellations and the rise of the omicron variant as there is rising coronavirus cases all across the country.

But we spoke with some travelers about why they said it was just so necessary for them to hit the road and fly out to see their family and friends this Christmas weekend. Take a listen.

ROBERTA MACFARLANE, AIR TRAVELER: Very concerned. I have glove and sanitizer and the special mask. But you just got to see your family. You have to walk with God. That's the only thing you can do. Only God can pull your through.

MATTHEW MONTEMARO, AIR TRAVELER: Seeing your family. So, going back to New York to see family from Atlanta and COVID has impacted travel quite a bit. Just traveling safe.

ROMERO: Now, we spoke with some travelers who are still going on the international destinations. One man told me he hasn't seen his family in Paris since December 2019, and he was going to do whatever it took to get out to Paris this Christmas.


We spoke with another woman who says she's traveling from Atlanta to Baltimore and for the first time, she will see her grandson. First time she will be able to meet him and wrap her arms around him, and she says she expects that to be an emotional moment.

Nadia Romero, CNN, Atlanta.


SANCHEZ: Nadia, thanks so much. Let's discuss all things COVID with Dr. Aileen Marty. She's a

distinguished professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University.

Dr. Marty, thank you so much for sharing part of your weekend with us. Merry Christmas. I hope you were able to celebrate yesterday.

I want to get to the big picture of where we are right now with the omicron variant because cases are spiking. The rate of hospitalizations hasn't surged as cases have, but, obviously, with millions of Americans traveling and gathering for Christmas, that may soon change.

What are you seeing when it comes to where we stand and where we might be in a few weeks?

DR. AILEEN MARTY, DISTINGUISHED UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, INFECTIOUS DISEASES, FIU: So, I don't think we are in a good place at all. Cases in the hospital are also rising and I think people need to be very clear that while this may be milder for the vaccinated and the triple vaxxed, it is not significantly milder in the unvaccinated and the vast majority we're hospitalizing are unvaccinated people, once again.

Another thing that people need to understand is that there has been a huge rise in the percentage of children because large percentage of the children are unvaccinated. So, we've gone from an average over the pandemic of 17.3 percent of the children being infected to 23.7 percent of the children last week and it's even higher this week. We just don't have all the statistics out.

So, this continues to be a pandemic that is worse among the unvaccinated and is nearly, just as severe, as it was before. There's actually zero evolutionary pressure on this virus to become less virulent. We must continue to be vigilant, we must continue to reduce our risk of getting a high viral load in a given moment, and that means that we have to reduce our exposure when traveling and when we are in congregate settings for people whose vaccination status is mixed.

This is a very serious virus and we're not taking it as seriously as we should. Omicron is far more contagious than delta. That's why it's causing breakthrough cases. And people who previously were infected are ten fold more likely to be reinfected by omicron than they were to be infected by previous variants. This is a very serious variant. We should not be downgrading it at all.

SANCHEZ: I had not heard that stat before, people exposed to omicron are ten times more likely to get it than the previous delta variant. When it comes to testing, it seems like it's really difficult for folks to get their hands on a test now, especially at this pivotal time where so many are traveling and trying to be considerate for folks that they are spending time indoors with, how critical is it to make tests as available as possible to as many people in the United States as possible?

MARTY: The testing is a crucial piece of trying to keep cases down. It's a very important way of knowing that you're going to be getting together in a safer environment, but it's not a guarantee. We've already seen several instances of people who tested 15 minutes before a party, and nonetheless, there was an outbreak because the party lasted for many hours and people who tested negative before they arrived, became positive or started to shed virus that they unwittingly had among others.

So, we have to be very, very careful about when we have congregate settings. But testing is an important part of the puzzle and we need to increase the availability of rapid tests in the United States. And I think that's one of the goals that president has.

SANCHEZ: Doctor, I do want to ask you about the CDC changing guidelines when it comes to isolation periods and requirements for health care workers who test positive for COVID. I believe it is now down to seven days from the CDC. In New York, they made it five days.

Is that something that should apply more broadly to the general public, or is that too big of a risk?

MARTY: So, among health care workers, the percent of health care workers that are fully vaccinated is much higher overall than that of the general public and we know that if you are triple vaxxed, you will have -- you may have symptoms, you will get infected if you're not cautious and wearing a mask in congregate settings, but even though you have high viral loads in the beginning, you tend to bring those down a lot sooner. So again, they're going back to work wearing full protection, which also helps protect those that they're around.

So, it's a very unique setting for the health care worker. It's not a unique setting for the general public. And also, it's a work shortage issue because we have been completely overworked now for two years. There's a tremendous amount of depression and it's actually a reduced workforce.

We need more physicians, nurses, technicians, available to help others, and if they're feeling well, it makes sense to shorten their time in isolation, so long as they are using all precautions to prevent transferring virus to others while they're working.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. It is difficult work, and it is work that does not appear to be going away any time soon. The strain on the health care system continues to be felt.

Dr. Aileen Marty, we appreciate your expertise. Thank you so much.

MARTY: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

New this morning, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has passed away. The 90-year-old is being remembered as a human rights activist, a Nobel laureate, a man with enormous compassion for the oppressed. He played a pivotal role in ending apartheid in South Africa and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The archbishop of Cape Town said Desmond Tutu was a man of integrity. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARCHBISHO THABO MAKGOBA, CAPE TOWN: (INAUDIBLE) wrong wherever he saw it, and by whoever it was committed. He challenged the systems that demean (ph) humanity. When the perpetrators of evil experienced a true change of heart, he followed the example, and was willing to forgive.


SANCHEZ: CNN's David McKenzie joins us now live from Western Cape South Africa.

David, good morning.

I have heard this morning over and over again about Archbishop Tutu's sense of humor and his legacy stretching far more than just his work to end apartheid in South Africa. It seems like he was a man who stuck by his moral code, even when it infuriated those around him.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And it's certainly a sad day in South Africa, but a lot of heartwarming stories coming out about the man who really was one of the key members of the icons to end apartheid here in South Africa, the racist regime. He was one of the few leaders actually able to march with thousands of marchers to go up against the apartheid police, as Nelson Mandela was in prison, and many of the new ruling ANC were in exile. He had just this unwavering moral compass.

Even when it was unpopular, his voice was clear, it was strong, it was rooted in his faith as a Christian, but it certainly was broad to all he came across, and an extraordinary man with a lasting legacy. After apartheid, he was the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where he helped South Africans at least partially heal from the wounds of those terrible decades, and then he became a strong moral voice who wasn't afraid to criticize those who he helped bring into power as South Africa became a democracy -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: And, David, you got a chance to meet Archbishop Tutu several times. Obviously, he was a Nobel laureate, internationally known and admired, but what was he like to meet and interact with on a personal level?

MCKENZIE: What an incredible man and such an infectious humor as you already described. I remember meeting him as a young reporter for the first time being completely awed by the man and his legacy in what is my home country. And I remember the producer telling me, just chat about football, chat about sport, he will put you at ease, and he did.

He had a way of disarming even his enemies with his wicked sense of humor, his laugh which the church called a cackle, and his ability to just not make light of the situation, but bring levity to even the most dangerous and difficult situations. But make no mistake, when he was willing to use his voice and that was often to be a moral compass, he was blunt. He often angered those in power.

[07:15:01] And he was never afraid to lend his voice to a cause he believed in -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Desmond Tutu, an international icon, dead at 90 years old.

David McKenzie, reporting from South Africa, thank you so much.

So COVID will be the focus next week for the Biden administration, but it's not the only thing that's being discussed in Washington. We're going to take a look at where things stand with the January 6th investigation and how bank records could play a key role in finding out what went down before that deadly day.

And later, the fight for safe drinking water continues for service members and their families in Hawaii. We'll have a live discussion with some of those feeling the impacts right now.



SANCHEZ: The Biden administration will begin 2022 still trying to get a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to a nationwide shortage of COVID tests, President Biden plans to make 500 million at home tests available starting next month, but critics argue he's simply not doing enough.

CNN White House correspondent John Harwood joins us now, along with CNN political analyst Alex Burns, who happens to be a national political correspondent for the "New York Times" as well.

John, I want to start with you at the White House. Clearly, White House officials, the president, they wanted to be passed COVID or at least close to past COVID at this point focusing on items like Build Back Better plan, but here we are two years into the pandemic and it is still the main issue they have to tackle.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They wanted to be past the pandemic, Boris, just like all of us wanted to be past the pandemic and the fact that we're not, is one of the principle reasons why the president has been struggling politically. We've seen what happened really beginning last summer when the delta variant surged, the erosion of his approval ratings, which had been high and steady.


So, what the president has got to do, of course, is keep grinding away at those vaccination levels. We know that vaccinations are the most significant thing we can do to get a handle on the pandemic. But as this becomes an endemic, the existence of testing, rapid, easy, cheap, testing, that Americans can use to protect themselves and protect others, that's going to become especially important and the president turned to that before the holidays, but they've got a lot of work to do. SANCHEZ: Alex, obviously part of the president's agenda got stalled by

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. The Build Back Better Act, there were several self-imposed deadlines that came and went. Ultimately, the president says that he's not giving up on it, but it seems like a salvage mission at this point going into next year.

What can the White House do at this point after so many meetings with Manchin, to try to sway the West Virginia senator to passion something, especially given that we're headed into midterm season?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Boris, I think the good news for the White House is that at this time last week, it was an open question whether any version of Biden's domestic and climate agenda was dead in the water because of Joe Manchin or whether it was just the version they were negotiating over. It seems clear at this point that the whole thing isn't dead, dead, dead. It's just that that version is clearly going nowhere.

And I think the path forward for the White House is relatively straightforward. Joe Manchin has said he wants a smaller bill with a different underlying structure of pay-fors and fewer programs overall. If you just want to get something past the Senate and $1.7 trillion is a whole lot of something, then you could kind of cave to Joe Manchin on those big roadblock demands.

I think the way you and John put it now, they're sort of stuck in this cycle of dealing with COVID indefinitely is right, and I think it's a political drag on them not just that they haven't put away COVID once and for all because basically nobody in the world has done that -- but because as the country feels itself getting dragged again and again into COVID, voters are mainly seeing headlines from Washington about this deadlock in the Senate over legislation that is still pretty hazy in terms of its underlying definition.

So, what Joe Biden has got to do politically is figure out what he can get to the Senate and sell the heck out of it on the campaign trail once it's done.

SANCHEZ: John, I want to ask you about some analysis that you're publishing on and you're making the case that though there is a public perception that this Biden presidency is mired in fits and starts with COVID, a lagging economy, and a series of issues when it comes to getting legislation passed within his own party, that it shouldn't eclipse some of the big picture issues with the Republican Party and democracy generally with the GOP that's flirting with authoritarianism and peddling lies about election fraud and potentially degrading democracy?

HARWOOD: Boris, we naturally focus our political conversation around the incumbent president, how he is doing, what his struggles are, and that's normal. But he's not the only political actor in the country, and I think in 2021, what his partisan adversaries are doing is at least as important for the future of American democracy.

Republicans around the country, at the state level, have embraced in the wake of the 2020 election, new restrictions on voting, designed to change the rules of the game to advantage them in future elections, change election administrations, so that the efforts that Donald Trump made to try to overturn the will of the voters in battleground states, that they might be more successful the next time.

You have at the congressional level, Republicans who were temporarily horrified by what happened on January 6th, changing their tune almost completely, blocking a bipartisan investigation that had been proposed. Of course, the House is going forward with one anyway with Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, but the Republican Party has been trying to downplay, ignore or even embrace the insurrectionists as a means of taking political advantage and winning power back in 2022 and 2024.

And if you're somebody who cares about the popular will and the future of American democracy, you ought to be alarmed by what happened in 2021.

SANCHEZ: Alex, quickly to you, the January 6th Committee ramping up their investigation. They're now looking into the money trail, trying to unravel perhaps some of the funding behind what we saw unfold on January 6th.


I'm wondering how you think that might impact the investigation and to also put it in a broader context, whether the committee is going to be able to get this investigation done in a midterm election year?

BURNS: Well, I think the question is less whether they can get it done in an election year, whether they can get it done at all before the house very likely changes hands next year. Republicans have a big advantage in the midterm elections because that's what happens in this country. The opposition party usually does well in a president's midterm election.

And it is highly unlikely the Speaker Kevin McCarthy is going to give Liz Cheney and friends the power to continue roaming as they have so far. So, the clock is really ticking on them.

And I would say, just to John's point just now about the sort of trajectory of the Republican Party in 2021, that's another subject that we have not heard a whole lot from the president about, that you sort of hear in fits and starts from the administration about voting laws and voting laws in places like Georgia and Texas. But if this administration believes that there's an overarching threat of democracy from the opposition party, it is really not something we have heard from the president and it will be important to watch whether that changes in the election year.

SANCHEZ: And that is key to the debate about a potential carve out in the filibuster and something that voting rights groups have encouraged the president to seek. We'll see how they handle it. It has to be a conversation for another day because we have to leave it there.

Alex Burns and John Harwood, thank you both so much. So more than 700 people have been forced out of their homes by

contaminated water at a Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickman in Hawaii. The Navy says they are handling it, but we're hearing reports on the ground folks have been reporting symptoms for months. We'll speak to those people after a quick break.



SANCHEZ: Thousands of military families are frustrated. They're demanding answers and seeking help after reports that petroleum was found in the groundwater at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman in Hawaii. Water samples contained levels of diesel fuel more than doubled what's allowed by Hawaii's Department of Health.

Families say they experienced vomiting, skin burning, intense headaches and diarrhea after drinking or using the water. It's also led to more than 700 people being forced from their homes.

Joining us now is Heather Marie Fisher, a mom whose family was impacted by the contamination, and Kate Needham is also with us. She's the founder of Armed Forces Housing Advocates.

Ladies, thank you both for being with us this morning.

Heather Marie, I want to start with you, first, how did you realize that something was wrong, and how are you doing now?

HEATHER MARIE FISHER, IMPACTED BY WATER CONTAMINATION: Well, we're doing good now, start with the good news, because we are far away from the contaminated water. We actually knew something was wrong before we knew what was wrong. I have three children, and two of them were experiencing some of the symptoms that you described. One of them had the G.I. symptom and my son was covered in hives all over his skin from bathing in the water.

And that was happening for about a week before we knew about the water. Then some of our neighbors started to notice the smell. And as soon as people started talking about it, we verified and checked our water, and it smelled like gasoline.

SANCHEZ: And I'm assuming you brought these concerns up to folks at the base. What was the response?

FISHER: Oh, absolutely. So we immediately called our housing liaison and let them know, but they let us know that a bunch of other people had reported it and they didn't even take down our address. They just said they were aware of the concerns and they're pushing it out.

SANCHEZ: And, Kate, there's been some confusion about how long fuel had been leaking into the water supply because navy officials told state legislatures they traced the contamination to a leak around November 20th, but some families have been reporting illnesses going months back. What are you hearing from them? KATE NEEDHAM, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, ARMED FORCES HOUSING

ADVOCATES: That's right. So the navy is reporting that they've only been seeing the symptoms for about 30 days at this point. However, we've had 700 families come to our organization and report all of the symptoms you've already mentioned, and other things like chemical burns on their children's genitals, for example, for six months to a year now.

SANCHEZ: Heather Marie, you mentioned earlier that you were out of that contamination zone. I assume you had to leave your home?

FISHER: We did. So on November 28th, that's the day that we smelled the gasoline in our water, that's the day we left our house and we have not been back since.

SANCHEZ: What is that like? The last thing you would expect is that the water you're drinking is poisoning you and your children?

FISHER: It's really devastating. I'm not sure that I will ever feel safe in our house again. There's a lot of mom guilt within me because, you know, I put my son in that bath water and when my daughter told me she wasn't feeling well, I said drink water. It's really crushing that it was our house and our water that betrayed us.

SANCHEZ: Kate, do you think enough has been done to help these families?

NEEDHAM: So, initially the Navy and the Army weren't doing anything to help the families. They have circled around now and they've been handing out water, trying to provide temporary lodging assistance. But our argument is that it's not enough.

So, first of all, this is a national security issue, right. You have service members who aren't focused on their jobs because they've this large-scale crisis where they have to focus on their families and the health of their families. More needs to be done. They're not doing their best. They took way too long to address the situation and they're trying to get their families back into the houses too fast.

The next part of the problem is actually the privatized military housing companies themselves. What a lot of people don't understand is that military housing isn't fully owned by the Department of Defense. It's been -- they've had contracts made with privatized companies that are in charge of the homes.


These privatized companies Hunt and LendLease in Hawaii are still collecting the rent or basic allowance for housing from these families. So, you have hundreds of families displaced from their homes, yet the company is still collecting the rent from them and the military is not telling them to stop. And that's just not fair.

SANCHEZ: So, Heather Marie, you've been paying rent for a place in which you are not living and that made you and your family ill? FISHER: That is correct. And there is no -- there is no communication

that that might ever change. No one is talking about that when that question is asked at town halls. It is not addressed.

SANCHEZ: You have a platform right now to get your message across to the country, if not the world. What would you say to the people that are putting you in this position?

FISHER: Listen to the people who are affected and I think give one of us a seat at the table because I feel like there's a lot of issues that are not being addressed and I think that the people making the decisions are not directly affected and I think that's problematic.

SANCHEZ: It certainly sounds problematic. This is a story that has not gotten nearly enough attention, and I'm glad we were able to get you both on today to discuss it and bring more attention to it.

Heather Marie Fisher, Kate Needham, thank you both.

FISHER: Thank you.

NEEDHAM: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: There's still much more ahead on NEW DAY, but first a quick programming note. Be sure to watch a new CNN film that focuses on the special relationship between James Taylor and Carole King. "Just Call Out My Name" airs next Sunday night.

Here's a preview.


ANNOUNCER: Friends, collaborators, legends, the music shaped a generation. They came together for the tour of a lifetime.


ANNOUNCER: James Taylor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His songs were amazing, his voice was amazing and his demeanor.


ANNOUNCER: And Carole King.

TAYLOR: Carole King, one of the greatest songwriters of all time. I asked her to be a part of my band.

Forty years have passed since the first time we played.

CAROLE KING, SINGER: I loved every experience we have had together.


ANNOUNCER: "Just Call Out My Name", Sunday, January 2nd, at 9:00 on CNN.




SANCHEZ: After the pandemic essentially benched sports in 2020, 2021 saw athletes return to fields and courts and delayed Summer Olympic Games finally opening in Tokyo. Sports stars also made news on and off the playing field.

CNN's Andy Scholes reveals the top ten sports stories of 2021.


ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Number 10 in 2021, age proved to be just a number.

And 50-year-old Phil Mickelson becoming the oldest golfer ever to win a major, earning his second PGA championship 16 years after his first.

This was Phil's sixth major title first, since 2013.

PHIL MICKELSON, PRO GOLFER: It's very possible this is the last tournament I ever win but there's no reason I or anybody else can't do it at a later age. It just takes a little more work.

SCHOLES: Number nine, Tom Brady, meanwhile, looks like he may never age.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: And 43-year-old Tom Brady wins a historic seventh title in his first season with a new team.

SCHOLES: Brady leading the Buccaneers to a convincing 31-9 win over the Chiefs. The Bucs, the first team ever to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Brady and the team celebrating with a boat parade that saw him completing yet another pass out on the water.


SCHOLES: And 2021 was the year of the Bucks.


SCHOLES: Milwaukee also claiming their first NBA title since 1971. Giannis Antetokounmpo capping off an incredibly playoffs run, becoming the finals MVP.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Major League Baseball is moving its all- star game out of Georgia because of the state's new law that critics say suppresses voting.

SCHOLES: In April, Major League Baseball pulled the all-star game from Atlanta.

In October, Atlanta hosted the World Series and pulled off one of the most unexpected runs in baseball history, beating the Astros to win their first World Series title in 26 years.

The team's unlikely championship coming in the same year that the world lost Braves legend, Hank Aaron, who passed away at 86 years old.

Number seven --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: NCAA March Madness, the biggest tournament in college basketball for women. This is our weight room. Let me show you all the men's weight room.

SCHOLES: -- the NCAA admitted failing the women in providing facilities for the NCAA tournament last March and vowed to do better.

After being canceled in 2020, March Madness was back in 2021, but it wasn't the same with limited fans. The men's tournament taking place solely in Indiana, the women's in Texas.

JON GRUDEN, FORMER HEAD COACH, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: I'm not a racist. I don't -- I can't tell you how sick I am.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, Jon Gruden stepping down as head coach of the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders hours after "The New York Times" reported on homophobic, misogynistic and racist remarks that he made in emails over a seven-year period.

SCHOLES: The emails discovered during a probe into workplace misconduct within the Washington Football Organization.

After resigning, Gruden filing a lawsuit against the NFL accusing the league of selectively leaking his emails to ruin his reputation.

Number five, vaccinations in sports were a polarizing topic.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Superstar Quarterback Aaron Rodgers defending his controversial comments where he raised doubts about the COVID vaccine after he tested positive for COVID.

He also addressed when he lied and claimed he was immunized.

RODGERS: I misled people about my status, which I take full responsibility of.

SCHOLES: Rodgers missed one game for the Packers while battling COVID.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Golf legend, Tiger Woods, hospitalized right now after a very serious rollover car crash.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Golf legend, Tiger Woods, is in the hospital right now after having to be cut out of his vehicle. TIGER WOODS, PRO GOLFER: I'm lucky to be alive but also still have the limb. Those are two crucial things.


SCHOLES: Nearly 10 months after the crash, Tiger hosted his golf tournament in the Bahamas and said he continues to make progress in his recovery.

And in December, he surprised many by in competing in a tournament with his 12-year-old son, Charlie.

Number three, despite the pandemic and calls to cancel the games, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics taking place without spectators in most venues. And it was another historic games for Team USA.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The most decorated U.S. track and field Olympian ever, Allyson Felix, secured that title at the Tokyo Summer Games.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: It's a historic moment for USA. Suni Lee wins gold.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Team USA's Katie Ledecky is basking in the glory of having made Olympic history, like again and again and again.

SCHOLES: Number two, a big theme in 2021 with athletes continuing to campaign for mental health awareness.


NAOMI OSAKA, TENNIS CHAMPION: No, you're super good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. I think we're just going to take a quick break. Just -- we'll be back in one moment.

SCHOLES: Naomi Osaka revealing that press conferences give her anxiety and she had dealt with depression since winning her first U.S. Open title in 2018.

The four-time Grand Slam winner pulling out of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to work on her mental health.

And number one --

BERMAN: Major breaking news out of the Olympics. We just learned that Simone Biles has pulled out of the team competition.

SIMONE BILES, U.S. OLYMPIC GYMNAST: At the end of the day, we're not just entertainment. We're humans. And there are things going on behind the scenes that we're also try to juggle with as well.

WIRE: The way Biles put a spotlight on mental health showing the world that no matter who you are, even if you're Superwoman, it's okay to not feel okay.

She's going to go down as one of the greatest Olympians ever for the impact she's had.

SCHOLES: Biles would return to competition to take the bronze medal on the balance beam.


SANCHEZ: Thanks to Andy Scholes for walking us through that countdown.

So she's not your average farmer. At 6 years old, she is the youngest in the state of Georgia. Up next, we'll introduce you to Kendall Ray Johnson and tell you how she's helping to spread her passion for all things fruits and veggies within her community.



SANCHEZ: So this is really powerful video you should take a moment to watch. It's new body camera footage capturing deputies in Kentucky as they find and rescue two infants in a bathtub. This is after their home was destroyed and they were swept up in a deadly tornado outbreak earlier this month. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 329, we got the -- I think a 15-month-old, central, can you send us med center?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to try to get them to you. They --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Go ahead.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is she okay? He? What do we got?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good there. No cuts on the leg.


SANCHEZ: You can hear the faint cries from one of the children as deputies discovered them. Their grandmother says that as the tornado approached, she scrambled to put them in the tub for safety. She left them there with a blanket, a pillow and a bible.

The kids were just 15 months old and 3 months old. We understand one of them was taken to the hospital for treatment of a head injury, but they're both alive and at last reported, it sounds like they're going to be okay.

At only 6 years old, Kendall Rae Johnson is already making history. Not only is she the youngest certified farmer in Georgia, but also the youngest black farmer in the state. Now she's become a local symbol for other young farmers.

Here's Kendall's story.



My favorite vegetable is carrots. There's a fun fact about carrots. If you eat a carrot, you are actually eating the roots of the carrot. They are delicious.

My name is Kendall Rae Johnson, I'm the youngest certified farmer in the state of Georgia. Welcome to my farm!

The story starts from my great grandmother, Kate. She taught me a lot of stuff about gardening. You grow the strawberry plants with sunlight and water, but with the rain and the fresh soil.

URSULA KENDALL JOHNSON, MOTHER OF KENDALL RAE JOHNSON: We had the girl scouts come. Some of them have seen fruits and vegetables, but they don't really know where it comes from.

K. JOHNSON: I showed them.

U. JOHNSON: They got a chance to really dig for sweet potatoes. Dig, dig, dig

K. JOHNSON: These are tricky.

U. JOHNSON: That was the most exciting thing that a kid could show you.

K. JOHNSON: Oh! A potato!

U. JOHNSON: The excitement of them actually finding something that they truly eat already, you know, in the garden. You learn so much more about what's in your backyard that you probably have never known if you had not played in the dirt.

K. JOHNSON: Welcome to the world, Shelly.

U. JOHNSON: Historically, you think of Farmer John. The overalls with the white t-shirt, a straw hat, and let's be honest, you know, a Caucasian man.

K. JOHNSON: Okay. Time for it!

U. JOHNSON: I'm Ursula Johnson, I'm Kendall's mom. We don't really see too many black farmers.

K. JOHNSON: You put this in the compost over there and it makes good dirt, good dirt means new plants.

U. JOHNSON: Kendall leads us and wherever she wants to go, we're there to back her up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hereby proclaim Tuesday, September 28, 2021 is Kendall Rae Johnson Appreciation Day in Fulton County, Georgia.

U. JOHNSON: Someone text me and said, hey, they just mentioned Kendall and said Google her.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): Kendall Rae Johnson.

K. JOHNSON: It feels great that they know me now and they know my garden.


Sometimes you just need to share your fruits and vegetables with the whole community.


SANCHEZ: Kndall leads us, love that.

Thank you so much for starting your morning with us.

"INSIDE POLITICS" is next with Manu Raju in the chair this week.

But, first, here is today's human factor.


ZION CLARK, PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE: The feeling of going down the straightaway on 100 meter is electrifying. The only thing I'm thinking is move, move, move, move. And I'm just there racing on the track. I don't see anybody next to me. I don't hear the crowd. I just see the light at the end of the tunnel. I try to get there as fast as I can.

I'm a professional track athlete. I'm a high-level wrestler. The speed I usually top out on the track is about 20, 21 miles per hour.

Currently, I'm training for the world championships for track and field and for wrestling. Working out and being an athlete in general helps keep my spine safe, my body healthy.

Caudual regression syndrome was born with a syndrome. I went through a couple surgeries to straighten my spine. I had to go through a lot of therapy.

I went into foster care the next 17 years of my life. I suffered a lot of mental abuse, a lot of physical abuse, which I still have some scars from to this day.

I was adopted by the time I was 18. My mother changed me in so many ways. She understood me like no one else did. When I was seven years old, I started wrestling. I would walk out on to a mat, people think this guy doesn't have lets, I'm about to walk through them.

And I'm thinking like, all right, come try it because I'm ready. (END VIDEOTAPE)