‘We still don’t know what caused this mutation:’ Doctor in new coronavirus strain

Kristin Myers of Yahoo Finance and immunotherapy scientist Dr. Leo Nissola discuss the latest strain of COVID-19.

Video transcription

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to turn now to the scientist of immunotherapy, Dr. Leo Nissola. Dr., thank you so much for joining us again. I want to ask you about that mutation that Anjalee was describing. We heard that it has already reached the United States.

I’m wondering if people should really start to worry that this is going to make the pandemic worse.

LEO NISSOLA: Hello, and thanks for having me. It is a pleasure to be here with you again. And I would like to have better news to share. Well, as you saw in the news, and we heard from several sources, this new strain that first appeared in the UK is more contagious. It is more infectious.

And what that means is that this virus is spreading from person to person more quickly than before. So, we still don’t know what caused this new mutation, whether it is by selective pressure or something else that made these peak protein changes.

So what we do know is that this new strain is called B117 and makes it easier for this virus to infect other people. Since many people have already shared these concerns in the news, we do not know if this is already in the United States.

So what worries me is that, at the federal level, we have not yet established travel restrictions. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a travel ban. But that means that we must examine our testing capabilities and see if the tests we have in the United States are able to identify this new strain. And if not, we should be able to update them.

KRISTIN MYERS: Wait a minute, Dr. I want to interrupt you here, because I have to ask you –


KRISTIN MYERS: – Are you telling me that there is a possibility that the tests we currently have do not detect this new mutation and this new strain of the virus? Which means, I think, really – because that’s kind of amazing to me – that if this new strain is already here in the United States, that someone may be out there infected with it, maybe asymptomatic, and the test may not even have caught it ? Is that what you’re saying?

LEO NISSOLA: Is correct.


LEO NISSOLA: So, we don’t know if this new strain is here. And we don’t know if the tests we have already approved in the United States are capable of detecting this new strain. So, we don’t know that. So, as far as we know –

KRISTIN MYERS: So, about these travel restrictions, so –

LEO NISSOLA: – this strain may already be here.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, about travel restrictions, I know you’re saying that you might need to rethink them. So should we really start to consider that, on these flights from the UK, do we need to set up coronavirus scans for passengers arriving on these flights? Because now, the United States is not doing that.

LEO NISSOLA: Absolutely. I think– I just heard Governor Cuomo say on TV today that New York will take care of this matter with its own hands. And I agree with that. Because we need, at the federal level, to be able to identify who is coming to the country, what they are bringing with them – whether it is a new strain of coronavirus or something else. And we still have to see that.

But again, a problem with taking these measures at the state level is that someone could fly from the UK to Chicago, for example, and then fly to New York. And then you would lose that new strain or that new virus that would potentially come with these people.

So there are many things that concern me. One is that I am not sure if the tests we have today and already approved are able to detect this new strain. And I’m not sure if this virus, this new strain of the virus, is already here or not. This is not clear.

KRISTIN MYERS: Should the United States really start to consider more lock-downs, especially since we have news of this new lineage, mainly because we have holidays and we know that people are going to be reunited with their friends and family? We have Christmas. We have the new year right after that.

And we know – and you came on this show and even said – that the winter months are only going to get worse. We are not at the peak yet. We have 18.2 million cases now.

LEO NISSOLA: They weren’t.

KRISTIN MYERS: That number will only go up. So, we should really start saying, hey, you know what? In fact, we need to end meals indoors, not just in New York, but we must start closing meals everywhere. We need to be much more restrictive than we are now, especially since this new strain may be out there and we can’t even detect it.

LEO NISSOLA: Well, a few things there– I don’t agree with the block or freedom for everyone. What I agree with is that there is a middle ground. There is a need for contact tracking, which is really difficult to implement in the United States because of civil liberties – which, of course, there are privacy issues that, too, I think we should discuss more actively.

For me, I think it is necessary to make COVID tests free and without a prescription easier and more accessible. We are just beginning to make this happen. If you could get tested today and make sure your test was negative before going out to see your grandma, that would be an amazing thing. But it is really difficult to do.

Trust me. I tried to follow this path with my own family and loved ones. It’s not easy. You still have to skip many different hoops to get tested. And if you are asymptomatic and have not contacted anyone with a positive test result, in different states it is difficult to achieve.

But I think there are things we can do to improve our ability to stop the spread of this virus and flatten the infection curve again. And that is frequent testing, free testing of asymptomatic people, contact tracking and ensuring that people understand that we are not asking people to be completely locked inside their homes during the holiday season.

All we ask is that people wear a mask when they leave the house, be conscientious about their health and, if you have any different symptoms, go to the CDC website and make sure to check boxes to see if they have symptoms potential COVID or not.


LEO NISSOLA: And for them not to meet with people who are away from home, especially during the winter. As you mentioned, we expect COVID cases to increase. And with this new strain, COVID cases will increase much faster.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, up to that point, as a last question for you here, Dr .– and I hate to inject this kind of bad news as soon as we’re done – but how bad are you anticipating that it will be in January after the holidays and maybe even February, is the coldest month, at least for us here in New York? How bad do you think it will get?

LEO NISSOLA: So I think it depends, again, on the states. He says he still allows people to eat indoors, people go to the gym or bars, as you saw in Florida – you would expect to see cases growing exponentially and infections increasing.

And again, our healthcare system is already at a breaking point. In California, there are many crowded ICUs. So, I’m worried, because winter is coming, cases will increase. And we’re going to share a lot of bad news, unless we take it to a federal level of COVID restrictions and make sure people understand the seriousness of it.

I still get a lot of emails and questions in my DMs on Twitter or Instagram from people who are not yet taking it seriously. And I am very surprised.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right. Well, I hope that some people out there, at least watching our conversation, start taking it a little more seriously, especially with that new lineage out there. Immunotherapy scientist Dr. Leo Nissola, thank you very much for joining us today.

LEO NISSOLA: Thanks for receiving me. Happy Holidays.

KRISTIN MYERS: Happy holidays to you too.