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Run on Flu Shots; Cuba Eases Travel Restrictions; Annual No Pants Subway Ride; Python Hunt in Florida Everglades

Aired January 14, 2013 - 06:30   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: The run on flu shots. The outbreak has some going from pharmacy to pharmacy, including myself, looking for vaccinations.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Don't call it a sequel. Another "Argo" movie in the works, but this one brought to you by the government of Iran.

SAMBOLIN: Will it be a TV confession? Speculation surrounds disgraced legend Lance Armstrong's sit-down with Oprah later today. Everybody is wondering, will he or won't he?

Welcome back to EARLY START. Thanks for being with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It's about 30 minutes after the hour on this Monday morning. Thanks for being with us.

And today, doctors are wondering when will we be over the peak of this season's flu epidemic.

This map we're showing you here shows the latest CDC data on flu outbreaks. You can see, 47 states have widespread activity. One of those states is New York right here, where the state's Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a state public health emergency. He also very publicly got a flu shot and encouraged New Yorkers to do the same. A little late, I might say.

Dr. Thomas Farley is New York City's health commissioner. In the past, he worked for the Centers for Disease Control's Epidemic Intelligence Service.

Nice to see you here, Dr. Farley.


BERMAN: Let's talk about the declaration from Andrew Cuomo, a state health emergency. What does that mean?

FARLEY: The one thing it does, it makes it so that pharmacists who ordinarily can't give vaccine to people under the age of 18, cannot give it to children, so it makes it easier for people to vaccinate their kids.

BERMAN: We've called around, though, to a lot of pharmacies, asking them if they will give it to kids. It doesn't mean they have to, does it?

FARLEY: Doesn't mean they have to. Many of them have to change the protocols and have to order different types of vaccine, but over time, we hope that it will be a little bit easier for kids to get the shots.

BERMAN: How bad is this in the city right now based on what you are seeing, compared to past years?

FARLEY: We have the flu epidemic every season. But this is definitely a bad season. And the way that we track it by the percent of people coming to hospital emergency departments, to have a flu-like illness.

Right now, we're at 7 percent. On the ordinary times, we're around at 2 percent, and other past seasons, we're around 4 percent. So, there's a lot of flu out there.

BERMAN: There is a lot of flu out there. Just anecdotally, a lot of people are talking about it.

When do you know if something like this has peaked?

FARLEY: Well, we tracked a number of cases in emergency departments. We're still on the rise here in New York City. Nationally, the CDC is tracking the number of illnesses reported to them, and they appear to be past the peak.

You can say for sure that we're going to have several more weeks of this, though.

BERMAN: So about 20 percent of full-time employees nationwide have paid sick days, but only 75 percent of part-time workers don't. What kind of affect does that have on the spread of the virus?

FARLEY: It's hard to say. We certainly recommend that people who are sick stay home so they don't spread the infection to others. But exactly how they can do it is something they're going to have to work out with their employer.

BERMAN: Now, there are a lot of questions everyone has about this personal questions. How can you tell whether it's a flu or a cold?

FARLEY: It's really going to be tough to say. In general, flu causes high fever. It makes you feel awful, lousy. You have some sort of respiratory symptoms.

If you've had the flu shot, you may still get the flu, but if so, you're going to have a more mild illness. It may feel like a cold.

BERMAN: Sixty percent effective, that's the state we always hear.

FARLEY: Yes, 60 percent effective in preventing people from having a severe illness.

BERMAN: And Zoraida here who's feeling a little bit under the weather. She doesn't want me telling anybody, she's wondering if you haven't been vaccinated, if you can still get the vaccine if you are starting to feel sick.

FARLEY: It's definitely not too late to get the flu shot. People should shop around and find places that have it. We do announce on Friday that there were a number of pharmacists in New York City that had run out because of the surge of demand, but distributors will have vaccine and they are reordering. So, if you shop around, you ought to be able to find it.

BERMAN: Even if you are sick already?

FARLEY: If you are sick, you shouldn't -- with a fever, you shouldn't be getting a flu shot now. If you haven't had the illness and you haven't had the vaccine, it's time to get it.

BERMAN: You had yours way back in October.

FARLEY: I had it back in October, do it every year.

BERMAN: When you saw the picture of Governor Cuomo getting his flu shot just recently, what do you think?

FARLEY: Still plenty of time to get it. Better late than never, because we can expect we're going to have this virus for a few more weeks.

BERMAN: All right. Dr. Farley from New York City Health Department -- thanks for being with us this morning, giving us some important tips to beat this flu.

FARLEY: All right. Thank you.

BERMAN: Zoraida?

SAMBOLIN: Way to not call me out, Berman.


SAMBOLIN: Thirty-four minutes past the hour. Taking a look now at the top CNN trends.

"USA Today" says when Lance Armstrong sits down for an interview with Oprah Winfrey today, he will finally admit using performance-enhancing drugs while he was winning seven Tour de France titles. The confession after years of vehement denials is reportedly part of Armstrong's long-term plan to rehabilitate his public image.

Armstrong stepped out from Livestrong. That's a cancer charity that he founded, and he was dropped by sponsors after doping evidence was revealed, pages and pages and pages of it. He was also stripped of those Tour de France titles. BERMAN: And it's not "Argo 2" but Iran's state media says it plans to produce a film in response to Ben Affleck's Iran's hostage drama. That's right, Iran.

According to "The New York Times", the Iranian government will reply in a film called "The General's Staff" that it says will correct "Argo's" historical inaccuracies.

"Argo", of course, tells the story of a CIA-backed mission to rescue six American diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 hostage crisis.

SAMBOLIN: And we are a step closer to the Super Bowl. Just four teams left now. New England beat Houston to advance to the AFC championship game. They'll have a rematch with the Ravens, and the Falcons blew a couple of 20-point leads but managed to eek out a win against the Seahawks with a field goal in the final seconds.

Boy, they were -- people just were having heart attacks all over Twitter and Facebook.

Atlanta will host San Francisco for the NFC title.

BERMAN: There was a lot of dramatic football this weekend.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, there was. It was good. It was good.

BERMAN: Very good.

SAMBOLIN: It is a dawn of a brand new era for Cuban citizens who want to visit relatives in America. We're going to go live to Havana for a look at the new looser travel rules. That's coming up.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Cubans are eager to take advantage of new looser travel restrictions that take effect today. The U.S. is bracing for them as well.

Patrick Oppmann is live in Havana to tell us more about what's going on here and what it means for Cubans everywhere. Patrick, what exactly are these easier requirements?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. And when you think about Cuba, there is just no end to the regulations, the red tape when it comes to living here. There's never a more hated regulation than these travel restrictions which were in place since the beginning of Fidel Castro's Revolution that basically made it near impossible for people to travel, fly with their families.

Finally, today is the first day that Cubans will be able to travel with only a passport. They'll be able to stay abroad longer without losing their right to return. That's expected to allow many more exiles who left over the years to be able to return here, perhaps bring back a little bit of money to relatives here.

So, these are very popular, very long awaited reforms to the travel laws here, John.

BERMAN: You know, everyone who watches Cuba always tries to read the tea leaves to see signs of something maybe more important, something bigger going on right now. So the question is why is Cuba easing these restrictions right now?

OPPMANN: You know, it's going to be very good economically. Cuban- Americans in particular send back so much money. So the government here perhaps hoping that letting people leave and return a little more easily and it could mean an infusion of cash that the government here badly, badly needs.

In the end, this is just a law that didn't work, that even in the government admitted was something of a cruel law. It was keeping families apart, and really was immensely unpopular even amongst supporters here of the revolution in Havana, John.

BERMAN: So what's the reaction? If it was a law that was widely criticized overtime, I imagine people there seem pretty happy.

OPPMANN: You know, John, we've been going out over the last couple of days around here in Havana, looking at some of the 200 new passport centers that the government has opened up and will be opening up in response to the 200 locations where Cubans can go and apply for passports, and the reaction we see now has been incredibly popular.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is good. They should have done it years ago, but at least now things will be easier, I suppose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I sincerely think Raul is doing things better than his brother, but they left him a lot of problems to fix.


OPPMANN: So, John, you know, very, very positive. Still it's not going to be easy for Cuban travel. You still need a visa to go to countries like the United States. And as well, you know, you think about what an airplane ticket costs. The average salary, John, is about $20 (AUDIO BREAK) here in Cuba, so just impossible (AUDIO BREAK) for many Cubans to afford a plane ticket they'll find a way to do it, people are very eager to travel a lot.

BERMAN: They will find a way. No doubt about that.

Patrick Oppmann in Havana this morning -- thanks for being with us.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of excited people there in Cuba.

Forty-one minutes past the hour. Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "STARTING POINT".

Good morning to you, Soledad. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": Hey, Zoraida. Good morning to you.

A special edition of "STARTING POINT" this morning coming to you live from Newtown, Connecticut. It marks one month since that tragic shooting happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School. You'll remember the lives of 20 first graders and six staffers it tragically claimed that very day. It sparked a nationwide debate about gun control.

So, this morning, we're going to be talking with several survivors of similar mass shootings, as well as former presidential candidate and ambassador, Jon Huntsman, with Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, former Florida Congressman Connie Mack will be our guests.

Also this morning, we're talking about the flu creating vaccine shortages at many pharmacies. We'll break down the very latest numbers. Who is affected? Where? What it all means for you.

Then a big night for Hollywood. We'll take a look at the most memorable highlights of the Golden Globes, including the most talked about moment of the night, which was Jodie Foster's speech. What exactly was she saying?

It's all ahead on "STARTING POINT." We'll see you then right at the top of the hour.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Soledad.

Forty-three minutes past the hour. Two skiers in Utah triggered an avalanche that actually buried one of them. A 43-year-old woman was trapped and not breathing, but authorities say the two went into the back country prepared. Her male companion tracked her down with an avalanche beacon. He dug her out, revived her, and called for help. She was taken to the hospital and is in critical condition.

BERMAN: Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed confidence to CNN's Christiane Amanpour that the Afghan people will accept immunity for Americans who are left in place there after the 2014 withdrawal. In a joint news conference with President Obama on Friday, Karzai has stated that he would, quote, "take the issue" to his people, but now he said that immunity that the United States demand is likely to become a reality.

SAMBOLIN: Thousands marched in the capital of Moscow Sunday to protest the country's move to ban adoptions to American citizens. It was supposed to take effect this month, but it has been pushed back to next year now. Opponents of the ban argue it victimizes the children to make a political point. Since 1999, more than 45,000 adoptions have been granted to U.S. parents from Russia.

BERMAN: All right. Here we go again. We might find out today where Jimmy Hoffa's body is buried. An alleged Detroit mob underboss says he knows what happened to the Teamster president who vanished in 1975.

Eighty-five-year-old tony Zerilli was in prison around the time of Hoffa's disappearance. But our affiliate WDIV said he would have been briefed on Hoffa upon his release. Zerilli says original plans to bury Hoffa in a shallow grave and later move him to a hunting lodge in northern Michigan, but he says they apparently just left him where he was.

The truth is out there.

SAMBOLI: How much money has been spent trying to figure out where he is?

Hope you didn't leave your metro card in your jeans pocket? Yes, it's that time of year again, for the No Pants Subway Ride. What started out as a small annual prank has now grown into worldwide pantsathon. Riders in dozens of cities in 17 countries drop their drawers, board a train like it was just any other day. The event was started by the group in Prague everywhere. That's a picture of you, John Berman.

BERMAN: Excuse me.

SAMBOLIN: That's it right there.

BERMAN: I have much nicer legs than that.


BERMAN: All right. Forty-five minutes after the hour right now. We are in the midst of a bizarre weather pattern, not to mention bizarre accusation here. It's warm where it should be cold or cold where it should be warm.

Alexandra Steele, please --


BERMAN: -- weather center in Atlanta this morning.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: All right. I'll take it away. You know, what we've got is temperatures 20 degrees below average from south like cities as Denver, and they are -- they don't need pants. They're in bikinis and bathing suits here in the southeast. From Charlotte to Atlanta, Georgia, you were swimming outside yesterday. So, here's why.

It's a cold front, 2,100 miles long, extending from Maine to Texas along a very heavy rain. This is the little pocket of warmth right here. It's kind of getting closer and closer and smaller and smaller every day. The peak of that heat was yesterday, and now temperatures will gradually cool down. But along that front, two to four inches of rain in the next really 48 hours or so.

And the heaviest rain you can see coming into North Georgia and eastern areas of Tennessee and Western North Carolina. So, it's kind of the stalling front. So, it's not going to really move anywhere. Here's that warmth. Florida still will be warm the next couple of days. Wilmington to North Carolina, 78 degrees. Breaking a record from the 1800. So, exceptional warmth. Again, just in that little area. All that moisture around the northeast, incredibly foggy. So, it's only travel will be quite an issue this morning. We have that dense fog advisory throughout seven o'clock this morning. Highs today, you can see where they're exceptionally cold. Minneapolis is 12. They should be at 24. So, it's not that exceptionally cold there.

But places like Denver, Salt Lake City today all 20 degrees below average. And as we head toward the next couple of days, you can see, there's a rebound. Salt Lake City 12 today, gets to 25 by Wednesday. Similar deal in Denver, heading to 47 and only in the teens today, guys. So, much colder air and that's going to spread across the entire country.

BERMAN: All right. Alexandra Steele in Atlanta, thanks very much.


SAMBOLIN: Forty-seven minutes past the hour, and the hunt for huge snakes. Coming up, the python challenge starts today. How will that impact the Everglades? TV wildlife expert Jeff Corwin, he is joining us live coming up next. Good morning.

BERMAN: Huge snakes.


SAMBOLIN: Hunting to save the animals. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but not in Florida where giant Burmese pythons, so massive, they don't even seem real, are threatening the delicate ecosystem of Florida's Everglades. They aren't native to the region, so the state is now asking for the public's help. Until February 10th, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has declared open season on pythons in the Everglades.

All you need to join is a $25 registration fee and an online training course. The person who kills the most pythons wins $1,500 and $1,000 goes to the person who bags the longest snake. And here's one hunter on the difficulty of catching a python in the wild.


JUSTIN MATTHEWS, PYTHON HUNTER: You could go out there for days and days and days and not see one python. I don't care how much experience you have. It is going to take some luck.


SAMBOLIN: Jeff Corwin is a wildlife conservationist and the host of "Ocean Mysteries" on ABC. We're going to talk to him in a moment about this. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 54 minutes past the hour. Jeff Corwin is a wildlife conservationist and the host of "Ocean Mysteries" on ABC. Before we went to break, we were talking about the hunt to save the wildlife in Florida by actually declaring open season on pythons in the Everglades.

So, we appreciate you taking the time this morning to talk to us about that. First of all, if you could just explain why these pythons are such a threat to other animals in the ecosystem.

JEFF CORWIN, AUTHOR, "JEFF'S EXPLORER SERIES: SHARKS": Basically, it simply comes down to this. The environment where these pythons now live is not used to them.

These creatures have evolved to live in places like the rainforest in Southeast Asia or the African savannah and the habitat or the grassland habitat that you find in the Everglades just simply is not equipped to deal with these very new and very noble invasive species. Basically, these pythons are alien- invaders, and they are eating everything they come in contact with.

SAMBOLIN: You say these very new invaders. Are these pythons that were people's pets?

CORWIN: Likely, that's how all of this originated. For the past 30 years, people have been importing these snakes, a lot less lately. But during the 1970s and 1980s, thousands and thousands of these snakes were brought in from Asia and Africa, and more often than not, either they have escaped because of hurricanes or people released them into environments where they shouldn't have, and these animals took over.

So, they started out as pets, and then, through negligence were released and, unfortunately, this ecosystem just really is not prepared to take on what these snakes do to the environment.

SAMBOLIN: And Jeff, how do you feel about Florida's plan to have this open hunting season on pythons?

CORWIN: Well, it's certainly very drastic, but the truth is these snakes are having a devastating impact on this critical habitat and the species that live there. Many of these species are actually endangered, and, you know, snakes are a big part of my life. My career has been based on snakes. So, I have mixed feelings about these snakes because, frankly, they've done nothing wrong.

They're just doing what snakes do, but something has to be done to manage this environment or we could literally see some species pushed to extinction because of the presence of these invasive snakes.

SAMBOLIN: So, you've dealt with snakes. A lot of people are saying, you know, you got to kill them in a very humane way. Florida is actually asking would-be python hunters to kill the snakes that they find in a humane matter. PETA has made this request as well. "Reptiles have slow metabolisms which means that when they are beheaded, they can suffer up to an hour before they actually die."

So, PETA is asking if this hunt is going forward, that they limit the ways pythons can be killed to ways where the brain is destroyed immediately so that they do not suffer. As a biologist, do you share their concerns?

CORWIN: I think it's very important that we remember that these snakes aren't the villain here. The true villains are the folks that through negligence or through ignorance put these animals in this environment in the first place. So, we need to think about that. But the truth is, they're having a devastating impact, and we have to make a radical decision, and I think it's very important that we are both safe and humane when it comes to managing these animals.

It is true. They do have very slow metabolisms, and if you don't dispatch them in just the right way, there could be lots of suffering. Also, there's one other big factor we're forgetting. These are powerful animals. And a large python that is ten feet long or larger could be very dangerous. And a bite from a large snake like this can provide an infection. It can be potentially serious.

SAMBOLIN: You know, I said that I wanted to join the hunt for pythons. I think I'm changing my mind, thanks to you. Jeff Corwin, host of "Ocean Mysteries on ABC and also the author of "Jeff's Explorer Series: Sharks." Thank you for enlightening us this morning. We appreciate it.

CORWIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: You know, he said he thinks people are forgetting these are big, powerful creatures. I'm not forgetting that.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. I guess, I did for a minute. Anyway --

BERMAN: All right. That is all for EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.