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New Day Saturday

Growing Worldwide Concern over New Omicron COVID-19 Variant; Biden Urges Vaccines, Boosters as Concerning New Variant Emerges; Rep. Greene: McCarthy does not have Support to be Speaker; NASA Launches Mission to Crash Spacecraft into Asteroid; Legendary Composer Stephen Sondheim Dies at Age 91; Philadelphia Hits Grim Record of 500 Homicides So Far This Year. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired November 27, 2021 - 06:00   ET



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning to you. And welcome to your "NEW DAY." I'm Christi Paul. And look who is in today.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Alex Marquardt, in today for Boris Sanchez.

Good to be with you, Christi.

Countries around the world are restricting travel from several African countries amid fears of a new rapidly spreading coronavirus variant. The concerns from health officials about that. And the rising number of cases and hospitalizations here in the U.S.

PAUL: And man of the house? The plan some Trump allies are floating to make him speaker of the House, if Republicans win big in the upcoming midterm elections.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It may be the way that save planet earth if there is ever and inbound big asteroid that could really challenge our existence as a planet.


MARQUARDT: And collision course. The NASA mission and scientists hope could one day possibly save the planet from a quote, "killer asteroid."

PAUL: It is Saturday, November 27th. We are so grateful to have your company. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving.

MARQUARDT: So great to be back with you, Christi. It's been too long.

PAUL: Yes, it has.

MARQUARDT: Missed - missed working with you but not the - not the early wakeup. That's - that's - you never get used to that.


PAUL: Sorry about that. Yes, it comes with this territory, right?

MARQUARDT: It comes really fast.

Anyway, we start with the alarming news of an emerging coronavirus variant that was first discovered in South Africa. The World Health Organization says that this new strain which has been given the name Omicron is a variant of concern. That's according to the WHO.

PAUL: And President Biden has announced travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other African nations. That starts on Monday.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've decided that we're going to be cautious.

We don't know a lot about the variant except that it is of great concern. It seems to spread rapidly.


PAUL: Now the CDC says no cases of the Omicron variant have been reported here in the U.S. But ahead of the holiday season, the nation's pleading health experts are stressing how serious this could be.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You don't want to frighten the American public, but when something occurs that you need to take seriously, you take it seriously, and you do whatever you can to mitigate against that.


MARQUARDT: Let's go to CNN international correspondent David McKenzie who's live in Johannesburg, South Africa. Of course, where this variant was first discovered.

David, when some of the travel bans were first announced, we heard from the South Africa's health minister who called it a knee jerk reaction. Now, many more countries have followed -- instituting bands of their own on travelers from Southern Africa. What are officials there saying today?


Yes. You know more countries overnight have banned travel from this part of Africa to their countries including Oman, Brazil, Russia, Jordan and the U.S. in that incoming travel ban, Monday, for travelers from this region. Their reaction, Alex, from this region is frustration. They felt -- feel they are being punished because of their early warning of this possible variant or a now confirmed there's a variant of concern. Just how bad it is, we don't yet know. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCKENZIE (voice-over): In a world fatigued by waves of COVID-19, now renewed fear. In South Africa, scientists identifying a troubling new variant of the virus that is dominating infections here.

DR. JOE PHAAHLA, SOUTH AFRICAN HEALTH MINISTER: A variant of serious concern which is now driving this spike in numbers.

MCKENZIE: More than 30 mutation say scientists in the spike protein alone, it's a worrying sign. Scientists are working in labs like this one in South Africa, scrambling to confirm if the variant evades immunity from previous infections or crucially, if it weakens vaccine efficacy. Definitive answers could take weeks.

SALIM ABDOOL KARIM, EPIDEMIOLOGIST AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: We think it may be a more transmissible virus, and it may have some immune escape.

Now, we don't know that for sure, but that's what it looks like.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: The European Commission has today proposed to member states to activate the emergency brake on travel from countries in Southern African.

MCKENZIE: But even without clear answers, the world is shutting its doors. Countries all across the globe, rapidly banning travelers from parts of Africa, they say to curb the spread of the variant. Now, thousands are likely stranded.


In Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, hundreds of passengers from South Africa forced to sit on the tarmac for hours after landing. Then crowding in a COVID testing site after the Netherlands bans traveled from South Africa.

The International Air Transport Association saying, "Restrictions are not a long-term solution." They've already lost billions to the pandemic.

And anger in South Africa, where officials called the bans, draconian, knee jerk measures.

RICHARD LESSELLS, INFECTIOUS DISEASES SPECIALIST, UNIVERSITY OF KWAZULU- NATAL: What I found so disgusting and really, really distressing, actually from here was not just the travel ban being implemented by the U.K. and Europe. But that was the only reaction or the strongest reaction. And there was no word of the support that they're going to offer to African countries to help us control the pandemic.

MCKENZIE: Countries in Africa, now Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium have so far confirmed cases of the variant.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MCKENZIE (on camera): Now to add to that number, those passengers we

talked about that were stranded at Schiphol Airport, Alex and Christi. 61 of the 600 arriving passengers from South Africa have now tested positive for COVID-19, unclear what variant. But you really look at all of this news moving very swiftly. And you get a feeling we are moving backwards, not forwards in this pandemic. Christi?

PAUL: David McKenzie, great information for us this morning. Thank you so much.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed is with us now. He is the former Detroit health commissioner and a CNN contributor.

It's always good to see you. Thank you so much for being with us, Doctor.

So, we also need to point out, a lot of people are talking about the fact that South Africa has such a low vaccination rate and could that have been contributed here. Pull back the curtain on this mutation for us. From your perspective as a medical professional, why is this one so dangerous?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, FORMER DETROIT HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Well, there are couple of things about this.

First, yes, I think it is really important here as we think about the situation in the context of the travel bans to recognize that in South Africa only about 24 percent of people have gotten fully vaccinated, which is not an issue of their choosing not to be vaccinated. It is an issue of lack of access to vaccines which is a large global problem. And now, we're in a situation where because we have not vaccinated.

What likely happened is that this virus hung out in the body of an immunocompromised individual in which it had the opportunity to sit and collect these different fingerprints, so to speak.

And the reason why we think that this virus may be more transmissible and possibly escape some, but not all of our vaccines is that it has picked up a couple of these fingerprints that are similar to Delta and similar to Beta.

Now importantly, it is - it's key to remember this. It's not likely that vaccines are going to be rendered entirely useless. That's not a likely outcome. What's more likely is that they may be less effective than they might have been even against Delta.

That being said, the fact that we are boosting, is critical. But I'll go back to the main point. So long as you have people who are vulnerable to exposure because they do not have the vaccine at all, whether they're choosing not to get them here in the United States or don't have access to them in South Africa. It is increasing likelihood of this - of this new variant to spread. And so, really is a dire situation.

PAUL: This won't - this travel ban certainly won't keep it from hitting the U.S. shores obviously. It could buy some time however for maybe some of these companies to be able to tweak their vaccines and make them more effective against this. Do you think that that is the case? I mean, are there companies who are already doing so, do you know?

EL-SAYED: So, all of the major companies are already testing Omicron against the vaccines. And we'll be learning more I think in the next week or so about the efficacy of all of the major vaccines in the United States. Of course, that's Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to some respect. We'll be learning more about their efficacy.

That said, you're right. Right? It's - given what we know about Delta, what we know about COVID is that it is very hard to contain. But this may buy us some time.

What I hope that folks watching right now will do with that time is make the decision to go get vaccinated. Even as we wait on data about the efficacy of these vaccines against this particular variant, we do know that it is better to be vaccinated than not to be vaccinated. Simply because however - however much Omicron has changed the fingerprint of COVID-19, it still has that same finger. And what we've been vaccinated against is that finger.

And so, it's critical for folks watching up there who are worried about this news, the best thing - the single you can do, go get vaccinated.

PAUL: Very good point. So, I want to ask you about these pills that are being developed from Merck and from Pfizer. A lot of people have been talking about those. We know that they are said to - to treat COVID.


And the headline, I think, from those pills is that it treats you once you're sick. This isn't a preventative measure. With that said, is it a viable option to help in a case like this?

EL-SAYED: Well, there's no doubt having these pills on the market is important. That being said, we did get some news just a couple of days ago that - that even the Merck pill is just not as effective as we had thought from the topline evidence. Nevertheless, it's going to be critical to have.

Yes, it can prevent hospitalizations and that is a really important tool in the toolbox. But what we do know about these pills is that they have no effect on transmission. Of course, you take them after you've already gotten sick.

And so, they are not as good as the vaccines. And I don't want folks thinking that, well, we've got these pills on board. I don't really have to go and get vaccinated anymore. It's not the case. And you don't want to be in a situation, particularly if we are in the midst of a major surge from a new variant where there may be a shortage of these pills and you don't get one.

And so, what is important here is make sure that folks get vaccinated. But yes, these are going to be important tools in the toolbox for us. If there is in fact another surge because of this particular variant.

PAUL: I know you are urging the vaccine. There are a lot of people that are vaccine weary at this point. Maybe they've had their two shots and they've had the booster and now here we are talking about the potential for another shot of some sort that could be specific - variant specific in this case.

I've heard a lot of doctors talk about widening the conversation to everyday things that we can do that we don't do. We're not having conversations necessarily that exercising, eating healthier or being hydrated.

What value is a conversation like that in the middle of a pandemic and how much does a healthy lifestyle really add to your ability to fight a virus like this?

EL-SAYED: Stepping back here, Christi. You've almost got two different vaccine and pandemic experiences. You've got the folks who are vigilant and vaccinated and you got the folks who are unbothered and unvaccinated. And the unfortunate thing is when I speak - when all of us speak, we speak to everybody. And I don't want folks to think that if they are unvaccinated, that if they eat well and exercise, although those are really important things to do, when you should be doing them.

Generally, that - that's going to have a real impact on the pandemic. For those who are vigilant and vaccinated, who have done everything they can to give their immune system beyond the lookout call which is what a vaccine is. For those folks, yes, it's good to make sure that that immune system is in tough shape so that it can respond if and when it may encounter the virus in the future.

So, those are really important things to do. And yes, importantly, right? COVID is not the only risk that we face no matter who you are. And so, being able to do the things to keep yourself healthy, to make sure that you are eating well, and exercising, and making sure that you are getting your good sleep. And keeping your stress levels down as hard that can be right now. That is important.

The other point to remember here is that these are things that are done collectively. Often times, we focus on what individuals should do for themselves. But the folks who have been hit hardest by COVID-19 are often folks for whom doing those things is not as easy as it may seem.

And so, we as a society, really have to look ourselves deep in the eye about this pandemic and ask, A, what is it that we are not doing to keep people healthy in the first place.

And also, why is it that our public conversation is in the situation where 30 percent of people are still - are still hesitant about getting a thing that all of the science has shown is safe and effective.

And so, these are big picture questions that we need to be asking generally. And I know that his strain is not welcome news for a lot of folks. But I do hope that it does force the conversation because you know what, there are a lot of things we could have done better. Including making sure that we have vaccines out to the folks in South Africa. So, maybe this new variant might not have emerged.

PAUL: Yes. A lot - a lot of criticism even hearing last night from several different experts that the U.S. fell short in getting more of those vaccines to South Africa. And perhaps that would have helped. Too late to tell maybe at this point. But just have to keep moving forward here of course.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, thank you so much for your expertise. We appreciate you.

EL-SAYED: Appreciate you. Have a good morning.

PAUL: You too.

MARQUARDT: And coming up.

A rift between far-right Republicans and the Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy now some inside the party are floating the idea that former President Donald Trump should make a play to be speaker of the House.

PAUL: And it sounds like a scene out of a movie, particularly the movie Armageddon which you may have seen. NASA is launching an historic mission to try and crash into an asteroid. We'll tell you what is happening.



PAUL: Well, three people are dead, and several others are injured after a shooting inside a Nashville apartment last night. Those injured are expected to recover after suffering non-life-threatening gunshot wounds. Two guns were recovered at the scene and so far, there have not been any arrest. Authorities say there was no sign of forced entry when they arrived and they're still investigating what led up to this incident. But we'll continue to bring you updates as we get them.

So, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is getting push back from some in his own party in his quest to become speaker if Republicans takeover.

Far-right Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, staunched Trump supporter, says the next Republican running for speaker will have to earn her vote. And right now, McCarthy does not have it.

MARQUARDT: For more on this, we go right to our CNN congressional report Daniella Diaz who is on Capitol Hill.

Daniella, the midterms and the next race for speaker which will follow those are - it's more than a year away but if Republicans take back the House, and McCarthy is still in charge of the Republican caucus, it does appear that there is trouble for him. And that he is not necessarily a shoe in as speaker. DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: As of now, no, Alex. Look, right now, there has been a rumor circulating among Trump's orbit that he might make a play for the speaker's gavel to a very wild idea.


However, it is technically possible because congressional rules say that the -- the speaker does not have to be a member of Congress technically. So, if Trump does make a play and get 218 votes, which is what's needed to clinch the speaker's gavel, he could be speaker.

However, few believe that Trump actually wants it. What it really means is that Trump still is playing a very big role in the Republican Party and will have a huge role in who possibly could take the speaker's gavel if - and that's a big if, Republicans win the majority in the 2022 midterms in the House.

There are many ways that this could go you know. McCarthy could get an endorsement from Trump which would give him a major boost toward the speaker's gavel. That's probably his ideal scenario or Trump could remain neutral which could possible also help McCarthy considering his of course the minority leader of the House. Or Trump could privately go against McCarthy and endorse someone else.

Now, the people to keep an eye on ahead of this, again just a year away, but if people - members to keep an eye on are the really conservative members of the House. The Marjorie Taylor Greene's, the Matt Gaetz', they have not outright endorsed McCarthy. And they tend to vote against some of the issues of the Republican Party. They are incredibly credibly far-right.

Take a listen to what Marjorie Taylor Greene said earlier this week on Matt Gaetz podcast about what she needs from a speaker if Republicans win the midterms.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): We know that Kevin McCarthy has a problem in our conference. He doesn't have the full support to be speaker. He doesn't have the votes that are there, because there's many of us that are very unhappy about the failure to hold Republicans accountable, while conservatives like me, Paul Gosar, and many others just constantly take the abuse by the Democrats.


DIAZ: So really, the members to keep an eye on the next year of course are Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, members of the House Freedom Caucus, the very conservative caucus in the House about 40 members.

But look, there's some good news from McCarthy. Last night, Marjorie Taylor Greene did tweet that she had a, quote, "good call" with McCarthy and she added, I like what he has planned.

Now, that is not an endorsement. But some good news for McCarthy but I really want to emphasize, Alex and Christi, that's it's still a year away before the 2022 midterms. And a lot could happen before then.

MARQUARDT: Yes. Very important to remember that.

Daniella Diaz on Capitol Hill for us this morning. Thank you very much.

Let's dive into more of this with CNN political commentator Errol Louis. We want to take a look back of this dramatic week at the Washington. Errol is a political anchor for "Spectrum News" and a columnist for "New York Magazine."

Errol, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning. Good to be with you.

MARQUARDT: Let's just pick up where Daniella Diaz just left off there. How much do you think Kevin McCarthy needs to be worried about the Marjorie Taylor Greene maga wing of the party in order to maintain his grip on the Republican caucus?

LOUIS: Well, he needs to be worried. He had tried this before. And it was elements of that same wing of the party that denied him the role as minority leader that he now has. I mean he tried for this in 2015 and they simply took it away from him. So, yes, he needs to be concerned.

I think the rest of us also need to be concerned, however, because when Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon crazy is calling the shots for the leadership of possibly majority conference if Congress were all in a lot of trouble. When talks about you know the abuse as she puts it of Paul Gosar, this was somebody who put out that famous video of him executing another member of Congress. These are radical people who don't have a solid commitment to democracy. If that's going to determine who the next speaker of the House is, we are all in a lot of trouble.

MARQUARDT: So, if Republicans take back the House and if McCarthy does become speaker, how much power do you think they will wield?

LOUIS: Well, he's going to have to answer that question which is you know is he going to let himself be touted, intimidated by people, who are really not legislators. You know Marjorie Taylor Greene was stripped off all of her committee assignments for some of the crazy things that she continues to say on and on and on.

Paul Gosar. Do you want somebody who is putting out these murder videos against other members who has been censured? Only 24 members of Congress have ever been censured. And Paul Gosar is one of them. You want to be beheld into him and to Marjorie Taylor Greene and to Matt Gaetz? At who's got his own legal troubles that to Donald Trump who's got his own criminal investigations of himself in the Trump organization.

If that's - if that's who Kevin McCarthy wants to be in bed with. If that's the price of power for him. I think he's got to ask himself some real serious questions, as what is it all worth at the end of it? If you have to be beholden to all of these people. It will be a five- alarm fire every day, a very little legislating we'll get done under those circumstances.


MARQUARDT: Errol, a big factor of course in next year's midterms even though he is nowhere near the ticket is former President Donald Trump. And it's always a gamble for Republicans who need to decide how much to cozy up to him or not.

We just saw Glenn Youngkin in Virginia try to walk - carefully walk that line to not alienate the base but also not appeared to be too close to Trump. We saw the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell struggle with that.

Kevin McCarthy has made clear that he is staying very close to Trump in order to keep that Republican base happy. But when you have a former president out there who is so alienating to so many who talks about how you know the elections don't work and they're all rigged and that kind of thing. Could it backfire on Kevin McCarthy if he stays that close to Trump?

LOUIS: Well, look, Kevin McCarthy has a - he is in a prominent position. So, he's a prominent example of something that almost every Republican is going to have to ask themself. Do I really want to be part of this? Do I want to be the plaything and the toy of Donald Trump?

Because you know when he came in, the Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress and the White House and they lost it all within four years. And we had a disastrous pandemic response along the way. He's shown us - Donald Trump has -- what his leadership can bring to this country.

If that is what Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans want, they can go right back to that. I think there are a lot of Democrats who are probably licking their lips, hoping, please give us more of the chaos that led to taking back the House in 2018 and the Senate in 2020. If that's what it's going to be.

You know, there is only one person who can answer that question of course. And that is Donald Trump. Again, the party is his plaything. Whatever he wants to do with it, apparently, the leadership has decided that they're going to give it to him.

MARQUARDT: Well, as my colleague Daniella said, it's a still year off but it's going to be a very interesting year in the meantime.

Errol Louis, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

LOUIS: Thank you.

PAUL: Every number is a life. That's the message from city officials in Philadelphia as the city hits a grim record. 500 homicides in one year. There are people who are pleading for one thing in particular. We'll talk about that in a moment.



MARQUARDT: The legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim died early Friday morning at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. Sondheim's lawyer and friend says that he died suddenly just a day after celebrating Thanksgiving with his family.

He's known for dozens of Broadway hits in the 20th century including "Sweeney Todd", "Into the Woods", and he was the lyricist on "West Side Story". Over the course of his career, Sondheim won many awards including an Oscar, a Pulitzer, eight Grammy Awards, eight Tony Awards. What a list. He was 91 years old.

PAUL: Well, leaders in Philadelphia are pleading for an end to the violence. That city witnessed its 500th homicide of 2021 just this week. This is a grim milestone, it ties a record that was set way up in 1990, and to make it worse, the number is expected to grow. I mean, there is more than a month left in the year.

MARQUARDT: The Mayor Jim Kenney says that he is quote, "heartbroken and outraged by these deaths." CNN's Brynn Gingras has more details.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi and Alex, listen to this statistic. This means that Philadelphia is experiencing a homicide every 16 hours, and of course, we are not seeing the end of this year just yet. So, they are expecting not to be more. The grim milestone being met on Wednesday when police say a woman was gunned down on the streets in Philadelphia in what appears to be a domestic violence incident.

But the city, according to police records hasn't seen this many homicides since 1990. This is a major issue, that not only Philadelphia is dealing with, but of course, we have seen this all across the country in major cities.

New York being one of them where the pandemic, where the protests, the aftermath of all the protests with racial injustice and police brutality, with the economy. So many factors are contributing to this. And I want you to hear more from the mayor of Philadelphia about how he felt after hearing about hitting that 500 number of homicides.


MAYOR JIM KENNEY, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA: A 299, 261, nobody ever asked me a question about homicides. And I've been a mayor for six years, I don't remember getting all this attention to less than 300. So, I mean, one is too many. One homicide is too many.


GINGRAS: And all those leaders that you just saw there, they are also pleading with the state legislature in Pennsylvania to have stricter gun laws. Essentially saying that people can just purchase as many guns as they want through straw purchases and then resell them on the streets. And that's also contributing to the gun violence that they're seeing. They're also just throwing a lot of money at it, millions of dollars to try to curb this violence and programs for people living in that city.

And they're hoping just really that the grim number of 500 people killed is going to be enough to try to get people to realize that every number is a life and hopefully the violence will stop. Christi and Alex.

PAUL: Brynn Gingras, we appreciate it, Brynn, thank you. So, during the 1920s, the Osage people of Oklahoma were some of the richest people in the world. But as Lisa Ling uncovers, that wealth may be the target. Discover the horrific plot carried out to steal Osage land and money. You can watch an all new "THIS IS LIFE" with Lisa Ling tomorrow night at 10:00 right here on CNN.

MARQUARDT: And coming up, it sounds like something right out of a spy, a sci-fi thriller, how NASA is now launching a new mission to try to crash into an asteroid. We'll tell you why next.



PAUL: So, did you like a move beyond Armageddon? Yes, might not want to live it, but NASA is taking a page out of Hollywood, they're taking steps to defend our planet from a future potentially devastating asteroid, Alex.

MARQUARDT: I thought it was a great movie.

PAUL: Yes.


MARQUARDT: NASA launched a spacecraft with the only purpose, the sole purpose of crashing into an asteroid to try to throw it off its trajectory. CNN's space and defense correspondent Kristin Fisher has all the details.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three, two, one and lift off of the Falcon 9 and DART --

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE & DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: This launch of NASA's first ever planetary defense mission, instead of carrying satellites, telescopes or people, this SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is launching a spacecraft to test a technology that someday could save the world.

BILL NELSON, ADMINISTRATOR, NASA: It may be the way to save planet earth if there is ever an in-bound big, asteroid that could really challenge our existence as a planet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what we call a global killer.

FISHER: Even NASA administrator Bill Nelson agrees it sounds like a scene out of the movie, "Armageddon".

BRUCE WILLIS, ACTOR: Guys, the government just asked us to save the world. Anybody wants to say no?

FISHER: But instead of destroying a killer asteroid with a bomb like Bruce Willis, NASA's DART mission, short for the double asteroid redirection test is using something called kinetic deflection. That's a scientific way of saying that this DART spacecraft is on a kamikaze mission to smash into an asteroid and try to push it off course.

NELSON: If it's successful, then if we had a real in-bound killer asteroid, we could do that with it and it would miss us.

FISHER: It would take the DART spacecraft 10 months to reach its target, the Didymos Asteroid and its moonlet, which is about the size of the Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It's so far away, that NASA says it would not create a dangerous debris-field in low-earth orbit like last week's test of a Russian anti-satellite weapon.

NELSON: The DART mission is creating an explosion and a debris field way out, millions of miles in space where it is not harming anything.


PAUL: Kristin Fisher, we appreciate it, thank you. So, let's bring in Janet Ivey; President at Explore Mars Inc., and Creator, CEO of Janet's Planet. Janet, it's good to see you this morning. Talk to us about the specifics of this mission.

JANET IVEY, PRESIDENT, EXPLORE MARS INC.: Thank you, Christi. It's really exciting and you're right, it sounds like "Armageddon" or "Deep Impact". But this is the first type, kind of a defense-driven test of technologies that NASA is testing out. And on board, it also has amazing solar arrays, it's testing out some other propulsion. But what it's going to do and it's the perfect time to do so, Didymos will be within about 7 million miles off earth in September of 2022.

And this thing is going to go -- DART is going to go hurdling at it at about 15,000 miles an hour. And its aim really is to crash-land and alter its course. And this is going to be the first time that humans have ever altered the dynamics of a solar system body in any kind of measurable way. So, exciting stuff. And again, it's like this poses absolutely no threat. So no one needs to do a meme today, asteroid headed to earth or something like that.

But in 100 years, we could -- we could potentially be -- you know, facing these kinds of things. So, there is a camera on board, it will be like the small little cube set that will go out after the crash- landing, hopefully the ejector won't hide its view, and it will get pictures and images of, did it work? We'll be able to observe this from telescopes here on earth. And it's an exciting mission, but it does sound a bit like sci-fi.


MARQUARDT: Janet, I think we'd all agree, I mean, obviously, we -- this has to be a major priority, you know, preserving the planet and making sure that life continues, has to be a top priority especially for an agency like NASA. But how seriously are they thinking about using this as a model in the future?

IVEY: It's absolutely being considered as a model, not only for how we protect our planet, but also for, you know, again, ion propulsion. You know, remember this, it's like most of -- asteroids pass by all the time. The other thing that I think we often forget. We don't think about is Jupiter has been our planetary defense system before DART. And what we mean by that is, it's two-thirds the size of everything in our solar system.

So, Jupiter takes a lot of those impacts of those asteroids and comets and hurls them elsewhere because of its great gravity. Now, occasionally, some of that debris does kind of like go on a collision course for the inner planet. So, it hasn't posed a threat yet, but get this, it's like we only know about it about 40 percent of those asteroids that might be some day headed towards the earth. Scientists predict none of this is going to be problematic for the next 100 years.


So, it's a bit time now to get started on how we protect our planet.

PAUL: So, is that the intention here because you just mentioned, there are so many of these asteroids, why is this one in particular the one that they decided to target?

IVEY: Well, basically because it's kind of size and distance. It's going to come, and you know, make this relatively close -- you know, flyby of earth within about 7 million miles in September. So, it makes it the perfect target so that not only can we get to it, you know, in 10 months, but we can also view it from telescopes here on earth. So, in that way, it makes it the perfect kind of system. And remember, Didymos is Greek for twin, and so it has this little moon Dimorphos.

So, it's going to be very fascinating for us to watch and see how much it alters. And here's the thing, it may only alter it about 1 percent or a few degrees, but scientists will be very curious, is that enough to avoid any kind of collision?

MARQUARDT: It really is fascinating stuff. We'll all be watching closely. Sadly, we now have to wait almost a year to see the results. Janet Ivey, thank you so much for taking the time this morning.

IVEY: Thank you Alex and Christi.

PAUL: Thank you, Janet. We have more ahead on NEW DAY for you, but first, let's talk about the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2021 because they've been announced. And one of them will be named the CNN Hero of the year by you. So, there's only two more weeks to vote and until then, we're continuing to share some extraordinary stories here. Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are children who do not even know what's their second name. What's their tribe, their religion? Children who are not even having this war. They are confused and in a helpless state. You need to give them courage. You have to give them hope.



We are in a community where every segment of the society has been ravaged. Good morning!

CROWD: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What keeps you going is the resilience of these children. Whenever I see their faces, it gives me hope, it keeps my dream alive.


PAUL: To learn more, you can cast your vote, just go to, and thank you for doing so. We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: Mallory Weggemann is a five-time Paralympics champion, she's also the owner of her own business with also dreams of a family someday, and she hopes to be an inspiration to any young athlete about what is possible

PAUL: Yes, first, she had to rediscover that passion in herself. We can all relate to that, right? Coy Wire is here with her story. Hi, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good morning to you. Mallory's life can be seen really as two acts. The first as a normal teenager, a student and athlete getting ready to celebrate her 19th birthday, but that changed January 2008 when she went to get an epidural for back pain stemming from shingles. It would be the last time she would walk. It was at that point she had a decision to make, her second act, a journey of self-discovery that let her to becoming the difference maker she is today. It began by going back to the one place in her life that hadn't changed, the pool.


MALLORY WEGGEMANN, PARALYMPICS CHAMPION: Eighteen becoming paralyzed. It was never what I thought would be in my deck of cards. And in these moments of adversity, we find ourselves kind of just yearning for answers to all of it and wanting to make sense of it. And nothing about it made sense.

WIRE: What would you go back and tell your 18-year-old self --


WIRE: In those dark times?

WEGGEMANN: I think the biggest thing is remind her that she's stronger than she realizes. I was really struggling to understand what this could mean for my future or what it meant for who I was as an individual, and everything around me had changed. The way in which I moved, the way in which I looked, the reflection I saw in the mirror, and it felt like everywhere I turned, I couldn't get away from this thing.

And it was all encompassing. When I went to the pool, I realized it was one place it was unchanged. And so it's my place I could go as a constant. As something that bridged me to my past and gave me a path forward. I love to swim, and that love sustained me through this time.

And at the end of the day, I know that my swimming is about something so much bigger than the end results. I love understanding that these gold medal moments represent something so much larger than self. I get a chance to be a path forward for that next generation, for that young kid that's looking to a world where frankly they don't feel seen.

WIRE: You want to change a narrative when it comes to people with disabilities. What do you see is wrong right now with the way things are?

WEGGEMANN: Yes, you know, right now, we look at disability as a worst- case scenario outcome. And we don't see the potential that lies within. When I was paralyzed, life presented me with roadblocks, not opportunities. Society wanted to kind of box me into what life with a disability should look like.


But the reality is, here I am nearly five years married, dreaming of a family, a business owner, an athlete. All the things that society said weren't for people like me when I was injured, and I think there's something to be said about flipping that, not looking at disability at something that should be pitied but celebrating it for all that it is. At the end of the day, we are more than our circumstance.


WIRE: "Limitless", Christi and Alex, the power, the hope, "The Power of Hope and Resilience to Overcome Circumstance". I highly recommend it. Mallory is on a mission to create positive change in this world, and she's one of those inspiring people I've ever been around.

PAUL: And you can tell, yes, I don't even know her, but I love her already. Coy, thank you so much for the --

WIRE: Yes --

PAUL: Introduction for all of us -- MARQUARDT: Terrific story, thank you. And still ahead, a new fast-

spreading COVID variant has health officials on high alert. Now, the U.S. is getting ready to impose its new travel restrictions. We'll have the latest, that's coming up next.