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New York Mayor: Masks Still Required in Certain Settings; EU Agrees to Allow Entry to Vaccinated Travelers; U.K. Scientists Studying Transmissibility of Variants; U.S. Regulators Scrutinize Skills of Envoy Air's Pilots; Volatile Market for Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 20, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Despite guidance from the CDC recommending fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks in many settings, New York is keeping them mandatory in schools on public transportation and in other places. CNN's Erica Hill has more.


BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: This is a really important day. It proves that vaccination works.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fully vaccinated? You can ditch the mask inside most places in New York and Connecticut, and businesses across the tri-state area can now operate at full capacity, as the early epicenter of this pandemic shifts reopening into high gear.

VIKRAM MULCHANDANI, VACCINATED HOSPITAL WORKER: I think it's a major milestone for us, and definitely happy that we are at this point in time.

HILL (voice-over): Though not everyone is ready for the change.

BRENDA JONES, NEW YORK RESIDENT: I'm going to wear my mask for as long as I can. It's very confusing. How do you know who has the vaccine and who doesn't?

HILL (voice-over): The short answer, you don't, despite the CDC's recent guidance,

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I think people are misinterpreting, thinking that this is a removal of a mask mandate for everyone. It's not. It's not their fault. That's just people either read them quickly or listen and hear half of it.

HILL (voice-over): Nationwide, about 60 percent of adults have at least one shot. And while average daily vaccinations are slowing, their impact is not. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to drop. As a CNN analysis finds, in the seven states that have already met President Biden's July 4 goal of at least one dose for 70 percent of the adult population, average cases per capita are about 10 percent lower compared to other states.

In the 10 states that have vaccinated less than half of adults, average per capita cases are nearly 20 percent higher.

DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, EDUCATION CENTER, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: I think we can dramatically slow the spread of this virus. I think what we should do is what charities do, put up that -- those little thermometers where you need to get to like 80 million, and just keep checking that off every day. We're almost there.

HILL: Pfizer is currently testing booster shot of its two-dose vaccine and it's CEO said on Wednesday early data from the clinical trial suggests that a booster will be needed within eight to 12 months. The FDA also on Wednesday authorizing normal refrigeration temperature for Pfizer's vaccine for up to a month.

In New York, Erica Hill, CNN.


CHURCH: Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci also says COVID booster shots will likely be needed within a year of vaccination. He told CNN earlier that's when we could see signs that the level of vaccine protection is starting to decline.


FAUCI: What's true is that when you get a booster you increase dramatically the level of antibodies that would be protected. So the question is will we be getting boosters? It's highly likely that within a reasonable period of time we are going to wind up requiring booster. And the reason that will trigger it is that when the level of protection starts to dwindle down, as happens over time, or when we start seeing more breakthrough infections you're going to see boosters.


CHURCH: Britain is ramping up its research on booster shots. The U.K. is launching a clinical trial to study the safety and efficacy of a third dose. Meantime the country's health secretary says more people need to be vaccinated for the government to be confident in allowing international travel. While some restrictions are being lifted health officials are still studying the threat of the COVID variant first detected in India.


And despite the U.K. taking a more cautious approach to travel the EU has agreed to welcome fully vaccinated travelers and visitors from countries on its coronavirus safe list, just in time for the summer holidays.

CNN's Scott McLean is standing by in London, but first we want to go to Melissa Bell in Paris. Good to see you, Melissa. So the EU has agreed to open up its borders to vaccinated foreign travelers. How will this work exactly?

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Well that's pretty sketchy in terms of detail for the time being. What we do know are those recommendation Europe will be formally adopted today. They are nonbinding, though, so it remains the competency of the individual member states to decide how and to whom and when they will open their borders beyond the Schengen and European areas.

So for instance, already Italy has announced it's going to be allowing American tourists to start coming in on special COVID-free flights. Other European countries may take more time. But the ideas is that even as Europe works on this so-called green certificate that will allow Europeans once they've been vaccinated, once they've had a negative PCR test, to show this on entry somewhere, they want to be able to extend that to Americans as well.

Now the way that could work could be as informal system as the American certificate being looked at upon arrival when tourists land in a European country, something else issued to them to show European wide that they've had the vaccine, or something more formal. What we understand is that the talks are fairly advanced between European officials and American officials in particular.

You know, this is a continent, this is a European Union that is absolutely desperate for those tourist dollars to start coming back into the coffers and it is those countries that are the biggest tourist destinations that have been pushing hard for some time for borders of the European Union, the external borders of the EU, to be open to people coming not so much from countries where the situation, the COVID figures are nice and low but rather allowing those who have been vaccinated and can show they've been vaccinated to come and go more freely. So by this summer there are hopes that Americans should be back in cities like Paris -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: A lot of travelers packing their bags, thanks for that Melissa.

And now to Scott. The U.K. government is trying to keep the Indian variant under control. How does it plan to do that?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey Rosemary, yes, so it's already sending huge teams of people going door to door in the areas where this variant is most prevalent doing what it calls surge testing. It is also really ramping up the levels of vaccinations taking place in those communities as well, in these pockets around England and parts of Scotland as well.

There is still a very big question in all of this though, Rosemary, and that's just how much more transmissible is this variant than the current dominant strain of the virus, the U.K. variant. Current government estimates show that it could be up to 50 percent more transmissible and at that level government estimates show that hospitalizations could ramp up to levels that were seen at previous peaks, even higher than that potentially. And remember, this is also in a country that has 70 percent -- more than 70 percent of the adult population with at least one dose of the vaccine.

Obviously the higher the transmissibility this virus turns out to be -- the government says they will know more about that next week -- the more likely it is for the government's roadmap for reopening which is currently scheduled a month from now for that final phase to be derailed.

This variant is spreading right now faster than any other strain of the virus in the U.K., it has already doubled for each of the last three weeks, more than doubled in the number of new confirmed cases.

Now, I had a chance to speak to the man in charge of the largest COVID-19 genetic sequencing operation, Dr. Jeff Barrett and he says that the reason that this strain is a little bit different it comes down to five mutations. Some of them though scientists actually don't know that much about. And that's because India does not have nearly the level of genetic sequencing, genetic surveillance that the U.K. has. And so he admits that scientists are still playing catch up to some extent to try to find out more about this variant -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Scott McLean in London, Melissa Bell in Paris, many thanks to you both.

Prince William has received his first doze of the COVID-19 vaccine, the second in line to the British throne rolled up his sleeve and tweeted out a photo on their official count of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The post said the Prince received his shot on Tuesday. Prince William thanked all those working on the vaccine rollout.

And actress Salma Hayek is the latest celebrity to share her experience with COVID-19. The actress told "Variety" she contracted the virus early on in the pandemic and the illness dragged on for almost a year. When her doctor begged her to check into a hospital Hayek answered, she would rather die at home. She has since recovered and is back at work, but says she isn't as energetic as she was before.


A U.S. regional airline comes under scrutiny over incidents that some say could have turned deadly.


PETER GOETZ: CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It means that we were, you know, literally seconds away from a potential accident with significant loss of life.


CHURCH: Still ahead, why regulators are questioning the abilities and judgment of some pilots.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well U.S. airline regulators are raising a red flag about a regional carrier that operates about 1,000 flights a day. They are concerned that some pilots at Envoy Air may not be good enough to fly planes. That is according to a document obtained exclusively by CNN. As Pete Muntean reports the airline has a track record of potentially dangerous close calls.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: These documents lay out a serious warning against the pilots of Envoy Air. The FAA says it found consistent evidence of problems with their skills and their judgment and now that has aviation experts worried.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): It is an airline that millions have flown on but might never know t now new documents obtained by CNN detail a federal warning against Envoy Air. It is the largest regional carrier for American Airlines, operating smaller jets between small cities and major hubs hundreds of times each day.

This is Envoy flight that slid off a snowy Chicago runway is one of nine cases in 2019 and 2020 that the Federal Aeration Administration showed serious problems with the pilots involved. In an letter to Enjoy CEO, an FAA investigator cites consistent evidence showing potential lack of airmanship deeper than what spot training or counseling have been able to resolve.


PETER GOETZ: CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It is a big deal and it's disturbing.

MUNTEAN (voice over): Former NTSB Managing Director Peter Goetz reviewed the FAA warning and says incidents could have been much worse. The letter describes a flight last year when an Envoy crew should have been landing on this runway but instead aimed at a parallel runway less than half as long. The FAA says only a last- minute realization prevented a potentially catastrophic situation.

GOETZ: It means that we were, you know, literally seconds away from a potential accident with significant loss of life. It really is an issue of training and culture.

MUNTEAN (voice over): Regional airlines have long been the starting ground for newer, less experienced commercial pilots. In its letter the FAA ordered Envoy to develop an action plan to deal with pilot issues.

In a statement sent to CNN, Envoy insists nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and employees. The airline says it's working with regulators and its pilots union to examine the root cause of each potential issue and take any necessary corrective actions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fire is still burning from a plane that crashed into a house.

MUNTEAN (voice over): Regional airline regulations were overhauled after this 2009 crash of Colgan Air flight in Buffalo. But aviation experts say these latest findings demand a new look at pilot qualifications, unchanged in almost a decade. Especially since Envoy says its pilots are guaranteed a direct path to flying larger airplanes for American Airlines. In an exclusive interview, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson says commercial flying is the safest it has ever been, but this shows the agency remains vigilant.

STEVE DICKSON, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: The good news story here is this is a proactive action. It's based on data that we have been able to glean by working with the operator to identify where there might be areas of emerging risk that they need to focus on and that we need to make sure they are not only come compliant but operating safely.

MUNTEAN: Should people feel safe?

DICKSON: Yes, yes. But it's something to never take for granted. I certainly never take it for granted.

MUNTEAN: The FAA says the pilots in that snowy runway incident back in 2019 were not solely responsible. In fact it fined the airport for not fully clearing the runway. But it also said that the pilots could have benefited from more experience. The FAA says it's still working with Envoy to address these issues.

Pete Muntean, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Elon musk plus China equals trouble for bitcoin. It fell hard and fast before clawing its way back up. We are tracking the wild swings and what this means for cryptocurrency. Back in just a moment.



CHURCH: We are seeing tremendous volatility in cryptocurrencies as anxiety spreads through the market. At last check Bitcoin is back up around the 40,000 mark, but on Wednesday it plunged as low as about $30,000 per coin after China ramped up its crackdown on digital currency. Several other major cryptos also took a hit as did their trading platforms. And earlier I asked global business expert Ryan Patel where he sees the value of cryptocurrencies going from here.


RYAN PATEL, SENIOR FELLOW AT THE DRUCKER SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT, CLAREMONT GRADUATE UNIVERSITY: China has continued to say, and the U.K. too, worrying about you know, not new news about countries taking harder stances. And you know, China is also developing its own government run cryptocurrency as the latest source behind that as well. So, then it becomes, what will be the rest of the players look like. And that is why we are seeing the volatility.

CHURCH: Right. And of course Bitcoin had already been dropping as a result of Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, voicing his environmental concerns about the currency. And then three Chinese financing banking watchdogs put the final nail in the coffin. And as a result many people actually lost everything. How damaging could this prove to be if cryptocurrency in the long term, or is this just about China, and as you say its plan to develop its own cryptocurrency?

PATEL: Yes, I think -- Elon, let's be honest, Elon kind of started this. The ups and downs of him tweeting this out, and part of it too is Tesla. You know, Tesla then comes out, making news that they won't accept the cryptocurrency which is that then plots some more doubt. Because really why we're having this conversation that's different from a year ago, that there are more companies out there going and willing to accept cryptocurrency, top payment companies. PayPal, for example, you can go on PayPal and buy specifics cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin and others.

And that's creating a legitimacy of getting an access to it. But then when you have you know, influencers like Elon Musk -- I mean, listen if he went and said I wanted to be with hashtag Rosemary bitcoin service to it, you would then be, you would have your own bitcoin Rosemary, and everyone is going to be buying it. And you'll be like, why is this worth anything? And the question goes, I don't know. And the reason why I bring that up is because that's what where we are at right now, it's on a tweet that goes up and down the market and eventually to your point. The real news will have to come into it.


CHURCH (on camera): Our thanks there to Ryan Patel.

Well after ignoring their existence for years, more footage of unidentified flying objects from the U.S. government is becoming public. It's all leading up to the release next month of unclassified government reports on the phenomena. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was splashed. It splashed

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It splashed. Mark bearing range.


CHURCH: The clip was taken on a U.S. Navy ship off the coast of San Diego and appears to show a flying object hovering over the water before splashing down to the water's surface. The footage was leaked online by a UFO enthusiast who says no wreckage was found and no craft was recovered.

Well NASA is congratulating China's National Space Administration on receiving the first images from its robot on Mars. In this color photo you can see the rover's solar panel and antenna.


While the black and white image shows a deployed ramp and the flat Martian surface where the Chinese robot landed on Saturday. American singer and actor Demi Lovato has made a very personal



DEMI LOVATO, SINGER AND ACTOR: I want to take this moment to share something very personal with you. Over the past year and a half I've been doing some healing and self-reflective work. And through this work I have had the revelation that I identify as nonbinary. With that said, I will officially be changing my pronouns to they/them. I feel that this best represents the fluidity I feel in my gender expression and allows me to feel most authentic and true to the person I both know I am and still am discovering.


CHURCH: Nonbinary is used to describe genders that do not fall into the category of male or female. Lovato says they are doing this for those out there that haven't been able to share who they truly are with their loved ones.

And finally, Ross, Rachel and the entire "Friends" gang getting back together for the first time in 17 years.


UNKNOWN: Rachel wrote Ross a letter, and demanded he read it before they got back together. How many pages was that letter?

UNKNOWN: 18 pages!

UNKNOWN: 18 pages!

UNKNOWN: Front and back.

UNKNOWN: Front and back is correct.


CHURCH: It's part of a reunion special shot for HBO Max owned by CNN's parent company Warner Media. The cast will revisit recreated sits of the NBC sitcom which launched their careers and they'll also be joined by stars like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber as well as actors like Reese Witherspoon who played supporting roles on the show.

"Friends" has found a second life on streaming platforms in recent years. The "Wall Street journal" reports HBO Max paid more than $400 million for streaming rights for five years. "Friends: The Reunion" debuts next Thursday.

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