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Eight Killed in Shooting at Three Massage Parlors in Atlanta; Growing Concern Over Safety of AstraZeneca Vaccine; CDC: Almost 12 Percent of U.S. Population are Fully Vaccinated; Dr. Sanjay Gupta Answers Your COVID Questions; Man Charged with Attacking Officer Ordered Back in Jail; Teen Children Testify Against Father Over His Alleged Role; Report: Prince Harry had Unproductive Talks with Prince Charles and Prince William. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 17, 2021 - 04:30   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Back now to our top story. The shootings at three Atlanta area massage parlors that left eight people dead. We are told law enforcement are now working with the theory that all three are connected.

The shootings took place north of Atlanta in Cherokee County and inside the city. We have learned that four of the victims are of Korean ethnicity. The suspect in the Cherokee County shooting, 21- year-old Robert Aaron Long, was taken into custody just hours after the killings. Atlanta police say video evidence suggests he's likely also the suspect in the other two shootings.

Coronavirus strains first found in California are now officially being called variants of concern according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It comes as cases are starting to tick up in several states, although national case numbers are still down overall. Two states, Michigan and Minnesota, have seen cases rise by 40 percent in the space of just seven days.

On a more positive note, though, America's vaccine rollout is accelerating, almost 12 percent of the population, about 39 million people are now fully vaccinated, but in Europe the vaccine rollout is a very different story. Nick Watt has the details.


EMER COOKE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EUROPEAN MEDICINES AGENCY: Thousands of people are dying across the E.U. every day. We have authorized four highly effective COVID vaccines.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But 16 European countries just temporarily suspended use of one of them, the AstraZeneca, after blood clot issues in just 37 people of the 17 million-plus who've had a shot in the E.U. and the U.K.

The company says zero evidence their vaccine increases the risk of clots.

MARC VAN RANST, VIROLOGIST: It's no more with the AstraZeneca vaccine than with the other vaccines. I don't think that they're making the right decision. And I hope that they will reverse the decision. But when they do, even when they do, the damage is done.

WATT (voice-over): By damage, he means vaccine hesitancy. Here in the U.S., nearly half of Republicans say they won't even try to get a shot.

DAN GELBER (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: We politicized mask usage, which was obviously absurd. Now we're politicizing vaccine -- taking a vaccine. It's crazy.

WATT (voice-over): Meanwhile, in Mississippi, starting today, anyone 16 or older can get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Get your shot, friends, tweeted the governor, and let's get back to normal.

Moderna just injected the first children in a late-stage trial of its vaccine in the baby-to-11-year-old demo.

DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY BOARD: I think if we're going to get to 80 percent population immunity, at some level, children are going to need to be vaccinated.

WATT (voice-over): This was one year ago today:

LONDON BREED (D), MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA: Bars and gyms will close effective midnight tonight.

WATT (voice-over): California's Bay Area announcing the first stay- home order in the land, this week, a new dawn in the Golden State.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're thrilled. We're thrilled to be back open.

WATT (voice-over): Angelenos in limited numbers can now eat inside restaurants again, even go to the movies.

MOOREA ROCCO, MOVIEGOER: We're watching "Tom & Jerry." And, well, we know it's going to be really funny.

WATT (voice-over): But average new COVID case counts are now rising in as many states as they are falling. A month ago, Nebraska was the one and only state where cases were climbing. The country now nearing 30 million confirmed cases, the real number of cases likely double that, according to a study published today in a leading medical journal.

Scenes like this raise a question: How many more?

GELBER: Every time we open up with without the mask mandate, we've had a surge that has caused more people to die. WATT: Every time you hear a governor in the U.S. saying that they're

rolling back restrictions they add, we trust our people to make sensible decisions. This, case in point, this restaurant behind me here in L.A., it is now allowed to have people eating inside but they're not going to do it, not yet. They say they want to stay safe.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


CHURCH: In the next few hours, the EU is expected to announce details of its digital green pass. It's essentially a vaccine passport that will allow free travel and support a struggling tourism industry. Frederik Pleitgen is live for us in Berlin, he joins us now. Good to see you, Fred. So how exactly will this vaccine passport work and what are the pros and cons here?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's really interesting because there certainly is going to be a big discussion on the EU level as there is with most initiatives on the EU level. But of course, different member states have very different interests.

But essentially, what the EU wants to do is that it essentially wants a green card, if you will, or a green sheet for people who have received coronavirus vaccines for them to be able to travel freely in the states of the European Union.

Now, of course, all that isn't as easy as it sounds. For instance, countries like Germany are saying they don't really want people who haven't gotten vaccines to have a harder time traveling or to have a much harder time traveling because of course right now the rollout of the vaccines is still quite slow here in Europe. The EU right now is saying they want that vaccine passport or green slate to become available by the summer.

Then of course the question is which vaccines are going to be eligible to be in that passport as they call it. And right now what we're hearing is that it's only going to be vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency. So a lot of the vaccines, for instance, from China, also the Russian vaccine right now is still in rolling approval. Those probably wouldn't be eligible for that at this point.

And then especially the Germans are also saying, what about people who have already had coronavirus and recovery, so have antibodies. They should be able to move freely as well.

And then also in Europe as you know, Rosemary, this is a place with a lot of very small countries that usually have borders to one another, they want special rules for people who commute between countries which is something that happens frequently here, to also make it easier for them.

So still some complications, especially the countries that have a lot of tourism they want this as fast as possible -- Spain, Portugal, Greece. Countries like Germany are saying let's take our time and really work this out in a way that you don't have safety concerns with a lot of people traveling cross border very quickly -- Rosemary.


CHURCH: All right, Frederik Pleitgen, many thanks for bringing us up to date on that. We'll see what happens.

With vaccines becoming more prevalent in large parts of the world, many people are wondering how it changes the way we deal with the pandemic. So CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has responded to some questions from our viewers and here are some of his answers.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Karen asks, if you are fully vaccinated by the end of May, is it safe to go on vacation in August?

Karen, I mean, this is probably one of the most common questions I get. I think people are starting to think about the light at the end of the tunnel. And let me give you I think what may be some good new here, some optimistic news at least.

I think the answer is yes. But I want to be humble here. Because, you know again, the virus has surprised us in so many different ways.

But once you start to look at how quickly people are being vaccinated, looking at the numbers of new infections, also balancing that with the fact that we know viral transmission typically goes down in the warmer months. I think it seems pretty safe to thing that, you know, over the summer we're going to be in a very different position than we are even right now.

Roberto asked, if I had COVID in September 2020 but don't know if I have antibodies, should I get one dose or two of the vaccine?

So let me just explain what Roberto is talking about here. When we talk about the two- shot vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, one way to sort of think about this is that the first shot is sort of priming the pump. It's the prime shot. And the second shot is the boost. So what Roberto is sort of referring to, says look, if I have already been infected and I have antibodies, does that serve as sort of the prime?

And so if I get just one shot, is that essentially like a second shot acting as a boost?

And there's gathering evidence that Roberto, that you may be right. I talked to Dr. Francis Collins, who is the head of the NIH about this. And he said that they may head in that direction for people who have recovered from COVID, maybe only giving them one shot.

We are not ready to do that yet, or recommend that yet, because the evidence isn't there. But that may be a possibility. One of the big questions Roberto that you correctly ask is, how are we going to ensure that people have the antibodies reflective of having been previously infected? Do they still have antibodies or have those antibodies waned?

That's going to be one of the big questions. For now, Roberto, the guidance for you, is that you still need two shots.

Eric -- what is being done to figure out how to get people out of long COVID syndrome?

Well Eric, this is one of the more perplexing things about this virus. It has surprised us nearly every step of the way. I remember when I first heard that a respiratory virus could be causing isolated loss of smell. Why would that happen? Why would a respiratory virus cause isolated loss of smell? Why would it cause COVID toes? Why would it cause strokes, as we were just talking about?

These are all questions that go into the question you are asking about long COVID. What exactly is happening in the body?

The answer is there's a lot of research right now. And there's centers now all over the world that are specifically looking at post COVID syndrome, long COVID syndrome, long haulers syndrome, whatever you want to call it. It likely has to do with the amount of inflammation in the body in response to the initial infection. It doesn't seem to be correlated with the severity of the infection. Meaning even people who had mild symptoms could still develop lingering symptoms.

But we don't know yet. You know, a year into this, we're still not sure why people have these long haul and symptoms or even how long they last.

A recent study basically said that about 30 percent of people, even nine months after their initial infection, still had various symptoms. So there's a few question marks that remain and that's certainly one of the big ones.


CHURCH: And our thanks to Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Do you have questions about COVID? You can find answers online at Take a look.

Well, some of those charged in the U.S. Capitol attack are now facing damning testimony from their own family members. Next, why their children felt compelled to speak to authorities.



CHURCH: On Monday, a 16-year-old girl testified against her father in court about his alleged role in the U.S. Capitol riot. She and her brother say their father threatened to shoot them if they turned him in. The case is just one example of how family and friends have been torn apart in the wake of the insurrection. CNN's Jessica Schneider reports prosecutors are moving quickly in several cases.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The man accused of viciously assaulting D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone is back in jail after a D.C. judge reversed the decision of a New York federal judge to let Thomas Sibick go free.

Chief Judge Beryl Howell ruling Sibick belonged behind bars, saying his actions were egregious and that he showed no remorse. Prosecutors say Sibick was seen on police body camera footage attacking Officer Fanone, who told CNN he had to fight for his life.

OFC. MICHAEL FANONE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: They were screaming out, you know, kill him with his own gun. I just remember yelling out that I have kids. And it seemed to work. Some people in the crowd started to encircle me and try to offer me some level of protection.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Sibick is also accused of stealing Officer Fanone's police badge and radio, something investigators say Sibick lied to them about. Court documents say he first claimed he left the badge in D.C., then he said he threw it in a dumpster, and finally admitted to burying the badge in his backyard.

FANONE: Like guys were stripping me of my gear. These rioters were pulling my badge off my chest. They ripped my radio.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Judge Howell slammed Sibick's alleged actions, saying stealing the lifeline of the radio to call for safety, it is just not acceptable. It is lawless behavior.

Also still behind bars after a court appearance today, Guy Reffitt. Prosecutors say Reffitt is a member of the Texas Three Percenters group, an extremist paramilitary group, and that he drove to Washington with guns in his car days before January 6th and took part in the Capitol attack clad in body armor and carrying plastic cuff restraints.

His children testified against him in court. His 16-year-old daughter detailed the comments she says her father made when he came home to Texas after allegedly storming the Capitol. She says Reffitt told her he would put a bullet through her cellphone if she posted about him on social media.


And if she or her brother turned him in, they would be traitors and traitors get shot, his daughter testified.

But his 18-year-old son Jackson told CNN's Chris Cuomo, he talked to police, anyway.

JACKSON REFFITT, FATHER CHARGED IN CAPITOL RIOT: It just felt like the right thing regardless of my emotions and how I felt, an how much I love my family and my dad. I didn't think he would actually do anything bad. But him saying anything even remotely threatening to me and my sister and my family and government officials, it was just too much.

SCHNEIDER: Prosecutors are now digging into exactly who Guy Reffitt is and if he was making any other violent plans. We've learned that prosecutors have now seized 28 electronic devices from his home. They're looking into that. And they're also considering any other charges, including conspiracy.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: And still ahead, unearthing history. We will tell you about the incredible ancient find these archeologists made by excavating caves left unexplored for centuries. That's next.


CHURCH: We have an update for you now on Prince Harry, following the bombshell interview he and his wife Meghan did with Oprah Winfrey.


Prince Harry has now spoken directly with his father Prince Charles and his brother Prince William in the days after the interview. And the conversations were, quote, unproductive. That is according to CBS host Gayle King, who spoke to Harry and Meghan during the weekend. Buckingham Palace had said that the matter between the family will be handled privately. But according to King, the couple is still upset over what they say are false stories still coming out that are very disparaging to Meghan. She says the couple also told her they want to move forward and heal.

Israeli archeologists have found new fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls for the first time in 60 years. These are the newly unearthed pieces. It is estimated they are about 2,000 years old. The writing on them is biblical text giving an insight into Jewish society and religion around the time of Jesus. The discoveries were made in the Judean desert. The Israeli government launched a new search in recent years after some previously unknown pieces of the scroll recently turned up on the black market.

And finally this hour not even COVID can stop Chicago's famous basketball loving nun from cheering on her favorite team. Sister Jean the 101-year-old chaplain at Loyola University, Chicago, has gotten permission to attend the school's first round game in the March madness tournament Friday in Indianapolis. It will be her first game in-person this season. COVID restrictions had her watching from home, but now she is fully vaccinated. Sister Jean shot to fame in 2018 when Loyola made an incredible run to reach the final four. She was there every step of the way and was considered the team's good luck charm. Well done. Good on her.

And thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church, "EARLY START" is up next, you're watching CNN. Have yourselves a wonderful day.