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Study: New Strain of Coronavirus Replicates More Easily But Doesn't Make People Sicker; Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire, La Jolla Institute of Immunology Professor, Discusses New Version of COVID-19; Canada Crushing the Curve as U.S. Cases Soar; Sen. Jeff Merkley Calls Out American Airlines over Coronavirus Response. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 3, 2020 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A new global study saying there's a new version of COVID-19 circulating that's more infectious than before but doesn't appear to be making people sicker.

According to the study published in the journal, "Cell," this mutation is now the dominate version of COVID being spread around the globe.

What does this mean for all of us? What can be learned from this?

Joining me is one of the authors of the study, Erica Ollmann Saphire, a professor at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology.

Thanks so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

Help explain to the non-scientists among us what can -- what you found, a new mutation of the virus.

ERICA OLLMANN SAPHIRE, PROFESSOR, LA JOLLA INSTITUTE OF IMMUNOLOGY & STUDY CO-AUTHOR: So this is a collaborative study, La Jolla Institute of Immunology and Los Alamos National Lab, Duke University and University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.

And, together, we looked 29,000 virus sequences and thousands of patients and multiple systems and what we see is that a mutation emerged in the coronavirus at the end of February. And by one month later, it had become globally dominant. That mutant virus is now the virus that has taken over the planet.

What we found is that is -- it is what we call fitter. It is more fit. It replicates two to nine times better in the laboratory and also better in patients. It grows to a higher yield.

BOLDUAN: Does that mean it's stronger, that is spreads faster? Does that mean it's more dangerous?

OLLMANN SAPHIRE: Yes. Exactly. Those are the right questions.

We don't know about spread. That's the different kind of experiment. We have to look at transmission from one place to another. We haven't done that yet.

We do know that there's something fitter about it, where it can rely Kate better or make more copies of itself. And there are a lot of laboratories exploring why.

The other question is, is it worse. We have looked at the antibodies in the blood of San Diegans and we found that they could neutralize the new virus just as well as the old virus. So for those people, their human immune system was up to the job.

When we looked at 1,000 patients in the hospital in the United Kingdom, there wasn't a difference between whether they were treated in the ICU or inpatient or outpatient. Their age and sex and underlying conditions is what determined the severity of their disease.

There's a lot of things we don't know. We don't know if the change in the virus could change someone from being asymptomatic to symptomatic. Because, if they were asymptomatic, they didn't come to the hospital to be counted.

It's possible that it could transmit better if there are more copies of it. It' possible it can catch hold in your cells better if it's more fit. It's possible it could make more people sick that were previously asymptomatic. Those are studies we need to do now.

BOLDUAN: Regardless, you need this information to get to any of that, which is so fascinating it.

And I hope that this is not a dumb question, but if the virus is mutated, can it mutate again? Do your findings -- does it mean it's more or less likely to mutate again?

OLLMANN SAPHIRE: Every time a virus replicates, it's a roll of the dice whether it will pick up a mutation. Most mutations are bad. We like those. We like the ones that kills the virus. But sometimes it finds ones that's better.


The ability of the virus to pick up this mutation, and for that mutation to sort of take over the globe within a month, is alarming. It could very well happen again.

Now, this kind of virus has some proofreading capacity to fix errors in its genome. HIV doesn't. Hepatitis "C" doesn't. But this virus does. So it mutates more slowly than other viruses we know.

But with 10 million cumulative cases around the world, that's a lot of rolls of the dice. And we're concerned that additional mutations could arise. So we're all, as a body of scientists, keeping an eye on it.

BOLDUAN: One thing that we've come to, at least think we know about this horrible virus is the 14-day incubation period. If you think you've been around someone with COVID, you need to watch yourself for 14 days. Does this mutation, does that say anything about a change in the

incubation period?

OLLMANN SAPHIRE: Good question. We don't know yet. And there's a lot of variability in that incubation period. Could be one week. It could be three weeks. Two weeks is sort of a ballpark estimate.

So be safe. Monitor your temperature. Monitor whether or not you've lost your sense of smell. And try to stay away from other people.

BOLDUAN: No kidding.

What could this mean -- what could this mean for vaccines trials in process? Because as I was reading into it and now I'm learning more about spiked proteins, without getting into it, the mutation comes in the spiked protein. The spiked protein is also what the vaccines are targeting.

Do your findings impact these vaccine trials?

OLLMANN SAPHIRE: That's exactly the right question. Probably not. And the reason I say probably not is this is one small change of more than a thousand different amino acids in the sequence. It's small.

Your immune response has multiple facets to it. It has antibodies and it has T-cells. You make millions of antibodies. That mutation might knock out one or two, but the rest will remain.

Data we just got yesterday suggests that animals that received the vaccine containing the original form can still neutralize the new form. So that's good news.

What we want to keep an eye on are there more mutations. Cumulative mini mutations are one of the reasons we don't have an HIV vaccine yet. We want to make sure that with seasonal cycling or seasonal drift it doesn't pick up more mutations.

The other thing we want to keep an eye on are antibody therapeutics ahead of an effort to find and deliver antibodies to use as medicine, as drugs. We want to make sure that single mutations that the virus pop up with don't take out some of the antibodies in our arsenal.

BOLDUAN: I have to tell you, Erica, this is fascinating. Thank you. You are a genius, obviously, in being able to explain this in a way that I actually begin to try to understand.

Thank you. Really appreciate it.

OLLMANN SAPHIRE: Thank you for your interest.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next, the U.S. has reported just over 100,000 new coronavirus cases in the past couple of days. That's about as much as the entire country of Canada has reported since the beginning of the pandemic. What did Canada do right? And what can the United States learn?




JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: Over the last four months, Canadians have come together to help each other and keep each other safe. It's taken a lot of hard work and many sacrifices, but it's starting to pay off. We're controlling the spread of the virus.


BOLDUAN: That was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just moments ago.

America's neighbor to the north facing a much-starkly different reality than the United States. Canada has just over 106,000 confirmed coronavirus cases total. That's about the number of infections the United States has seen in the last two days. How has this happened?

CNN's Paula Newton is joining me now with more on this.

Paula, what are you seeing that went on in Canada? What could the United States learn?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the first thing we have to do is point out that, look, Canada's response here was not perfect, and to suggest otherwise does a disservice to the thousands that lost their life because the death rate in Canada was actually quite high.

Kate, here's the thing, in five months of tracking the virus in Canada, talking to dozens of doctors and public health experts around the country, what I noticed was a very healthy respect for the damage this virus could do and a willingness to do anything it took to bring it under control.

Take a listen.


NEWTON (voice-over): For Canada, it's been a hallmark of the pandemic, empty hospitals. The feared wave of COVID patients never happened.

Canada started out much like the United States, but as the COVID curve climbed, Canada crushed it. Now seeing on average just a few hundred new positive cases a day.

That means right now, the U.S. is reporting more than 10 times more positive cases per capita than Canada. And yet, no one here is declaring mission accomplished.


TRUDEAU: What the situation we're seeing in the United States and elsewhere highlights for us is that, even as our economy is reopening, we need to make sure we're continuing to remain vigilant, individually and collectively.

NEWTON: Vigilance has been the watch word. Early and widespread testing, a free healthcare system still building surge capacity, longer shutdowns, slower reopenings, social distancing. And there is no controversy over wearing masks. Most see it as their duty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wear it for myself and others. It protects them from me and me from them. It's just respectable to be respectable to other people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right from the top down, they're leading by example in terms of their use of masks.

NEWTON: British Columbia's top doctor acted as the country's early warning system, successfully managing the very first outbreaks and proving it could be done.

DR. BONNIE HENRY, PROVINCIAL HEALTH OFFICER FOR BRITISH COLUMBIA: A lot of it comes down to cohesiveness, being able to provide the information that people needed to do what we needed them to do.

And that has held up as we have gone into opening up things again. People still are adhering to the basics to try and ensure that we still keep each other safe.

NEWTON: Dr. Henry points to something else that was critical, keeping politics out of the response.

Here is a conservative leader praising the liberal deputy prime minister.

UNIDENTIFIED CANADIAN CONSERVATIVE LEADER: Chrystia Freeland, what can I say? She's an absolutely champion.

NEWTON: It would be like a Democratic governor calling Vice President Mike Pence their hero.

HENRY: In general, we were all coming together. We have the same basic information for people. And the politicians made the right decisions based on advice and that helped us.

NEWTON: Also critically important, the U.S./Canada border remains closed to all but essential travel. And anyone entering Canada right now must quarantine for 14 days. And the E.U. has deemed Canadians as safe for entry, unlike Americans.

And yet, here too, missteps have had tragic consequences. More than 8,500 people have died. The vast majority of the deaths linked to crowded and poorly staffed seniors homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seeing a lot of bad stuff happen, but I don't remember anything with this level of sadness.

NEWTON: Prime Minister Trudeau admits it has been a national shame. And in that contrition, Canadians see a willingness to recalibrate the country's response to the virus based on an unwavering deference to science.


NEWTON: And make no mistake, Kate, many Canadians have been to hell and back with this virus. And they saw a problem in the nursing homes and they brought in the military.

Canada is in a much better place now. But, Kate, think about it. Only a few hundred cases yesterday, which means they can contact trace each and every outbreak. It makes managing this pandemic completely different.

And, Kate, you and I both know there are Americans right now who are very close to that Canadian border thinking, why not here.

BOLDUAN: No kidding.

Great perspective, Paula. Thank you.

A quick programming note, everybody. Dana Bash and Don Lemon will be hosting CNN's "FOURTH OF JULY IN AMERICA," an evening of fireworks and an all-star musical lineup. It all begins tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up for us, why is one U.S. Senator calling out American Airlines over its coronavirus response?

We'll be back.



BOLDUAN: First, it was director of CDC calling out American Airlines for booking flights to full capacity, including middle seats again.

Now it's Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley. The Senator of Oregon taking to Twitter yesterday with this scathing rebuke. He wrote, "American Airlines, how many Americans will die because you fill middle seats with your customers shoulder to shoulder hour after hour?"

He goes on to say, "This is incredibly irresponsible. People eat and drink on planes and must take off masks to do so. No way you aren't facilitating spread of COVID infections."

The airline had previously defended its decision to start booking middle seats, saying, in part, this: "We have multiple layers of protection in place for those that fly with us, including required face coverings, enhanced cleaning procedures and a pre-flight COVID-19 symptom checklist."

CNN's Pete Muntean is tracking all of this.

Pete, I don't know, where does everybody land on this? What are you hearing about this back and forth? PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It's so interesting, Kate,

because passengers are well aware of the policy. And I have been talking to them leaving the American Airlines concourse here at Reagan National Airport. They're telling me they were expecting completely full flights because of this decision but, in actuality, they're finding flights less than full.

American Airlines says, in June, flights on average were about 63 percent full but, yesterday, was American's busiest day of the pandemic since March 17th.

I want you to listen to passengers who told me they knew about the policy and their rationale on still flying in the middle of a pandemic.


UNIDENTIFIED AIRLINE PASSENGER: I don't think that's wise. I think that you should give more time and block the seat because, what they're doing is eliminating the number of flights that they have, and they're just trying to get the people spread across, like, eight flights a day to two flights a day. And I don't think that was wise.

UNIDENTIFIED AIRLINE PASSENGER: I thought it would be worse in terms of number of people traveling. I thought it would be few and far between. But there's actually a decent amount of people.



MUNTEAN: American Airlines has joined United Airlines, which has been selling middle seats all along during this pandemic.

All of this, the bottom line is that you have a higher chance of being on a completely full flight. What's really interesting is an admission by American -- by United, excuse me, which said that, in the middle of this pandemic, that more of blocking middle seats was primarily a public-relations move rather than a public-health move.

We will have to see, though, on what is typically a busy travel weekend, whether or not travelers agree -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Pete, thank you.

Still ahead, there's growing concern that big Fourth of July holiday events could become super spreaders for the virus, spread even more this weekend than we have already seen. Updates from hotspots in Florida and California, next.



BOLDUAN: The top of the hour, everyone. Thanks for sticking with us. I'm Kate Bolduan. I do sound like a broken record. You have heard this before as in

yesterday and the day before that.