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U.S. Facing Worst Unemployment Rate Since Great Depression; Disney Profits Plunge 91 percent in First Quarter; U.S. Food Supply Chain Under Pressure; FERN Uncovers Safety Failures in Meat Packing Plants; Unemployment Hits Asian-Americans Especially Hard; Russian Police Investigate How Doctors Fell from Windows; Healing Power of Music. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 6, 2020 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS, CHIEF BUSINESS, CORRESPONDENT: Some of those people can go back to work. I mean, a great proportion of those 30 million people who have been put out of work, the idea is they're going to go back to work when this is all over. Some of these people have been furloughed. Meaning they're still technically on the books of the company, they may even be getting health insurance through their company, but they're being paid by jobless benefits until people can get back to work.

The real troublesome part for me here is that there are some in the 30 million who might not find a position in the economy right away when we come back, because some parts of the economy are going to look different when we reopen.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, exactly. And then, of course, shocking earnings report from Disney. There are plans, of course, to open up their Shanghai park Monday, but what's the latest on all of that?

ROMANS: You know, these Disney earnings just really remarkable, down 91 percent. This is a company that has been firing on all cylinders for many years now, and it is a company that is built on its theme park business. Basically shut down around the world. Now, we know that Shanghai's going to be opening up in coming days here. They're getting close. They're looking at social distancing measures and new ways of doing the queues there. I'm really watching Disney in particular to see how this country looks, really, when we reopen. Because I mean, nothing says people packed together, you know, enjoying things together like a Disney theme park experience. They're going to have to really rework what that's going to look like.

ROMANS: CHURCH: Yes, and that's hard to imagine, isn't it, for any of us who have gone to Disneyland or anywhere related to Disney. And for those who do travel, of course, to these parks and elsewhere, the flight might look a little different, might it? What are airlines doing about seating now?

ROMANS: Well I mean, people are taking so many fewer flights. I mean, it's remarkable. So different airlines are doing different things. For example, Delta says that it's going to cap capacity at say 50 percent in first class, 60 percent in the other cabin. So, there will be fewer people on those planes. American, for example, is not selling as many middle seats. And Frontier is allowing you to buy the middle seat so that you don't have somebody sitting next to you in your row if you want.

You will see flight attendants wearing masks, and some of these airlines are going to be asking passengers to wear masks as well. The idea here, they want you to feel comfortable enough that you're going to be safe when you fly.

Yes, understandable, and of course, more layoffs and closures. This time for Airbnb and Lord and Taylor. What are their plans?

ROMANS: Yes, Airbnb -- so this is the travel sector, again, where we keep going back to these parts of the economy that won't snap back right away like others. Airbnb is laying off about a quarter of its workers. Just think about how travel has basically stopped here, and that has been a problem there.

Lord and Taylor, Reuters is reporting that that could be the next retailer to file for bankruptcy. Again, that's a report from Reuters. No surprise, some of these big, you know, old-school, iconic names already struggling with online competition, and then you throw in a pandemic where people aren't going through the front doors, I mean, that's a real body blow for some of these retailers.

CHURCH: Yes, but the pandemic has worked for some businesses, hasn't it? What's going on with Activision Blizzard?

Yes, so Activision, you know, this is a fascinating story there. Strong earnings, earnings in the quarter up I think 21 percent. And its latest iteration of "Call of Duty," a very famous video game that it has, has blown away. It's outsold every other version of "Call of Duty." You can see the stock is up there right now. So, you can see the stay-at-home factor appears to be beneficial for some parts of the economy, at least.

CHURCH: Yes, most definitely. Christine Romans covered a lot of ground there. Many thanks, as always.

All right, let's look at how this virus is impacting the U.S. food supply chain. The president of a food workers union says there's plenty of food, but the industry has an efficiency issue due to lack of equipment and testing. Take a listen.


MARC PERRONE, PRESIDENT, UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION: The failure that we had was not necessarily because the processors weren't willing to do something earlier. The failure we had was because we couldn't get the personal protection equipment and the testing that we needed on the front side to get ahead of this. That's the failure we had.


CHURCH: And that operational failure has ripple effects all the way to the consumer. One analyst says roughly one in five Wendy's fast-food restaurants in the U.S. doesn't have the beef to make hamburgers right now. To keep shortages from getting worse, meatpacking plants must reopen safely. Tyson Foods says it will restart limited operations in Waterloo, Iowa, on May 7th. The plant will feature new safety precautions. But will they be enough?


Let's talk now with Sam Fromartz, the editor in chief FERN, that's Food and Environment Reporting Network. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So fast food and grocery chains have sounded the alarm about the food supplies, specifically meat, in the midst of this pandemic. What's happening at U.S. meatpacking and food plants right now, and how are they dealing with the increased demand as workers get sick?

FROMARTZ: Well, it's a real problem because meatpacking plants have become a hotspot for COVID-19 in this country, and they have among the fastest growing cases. And so, we've tracked over 7,000 workers who have fallen ill and at least 30 deaths. There may be more, you know, that are unreported. And as a result, production is declining at the same time President Trump declared that these plants must be open, that workers should come to work.

But workers have spontaneously walked out in some cases because they're concerned about workplace safety. Because as we've reported in investigative pieces, they don't have the basic -- in some cases, they didn't have the basic PPE -- gloves, et cetera, hand-washing facilities -- to be able to take care of themselves. And these are very cramped quarters.

CHURCH: Yes, I mean, that really shocked me. You have actually uncovered evidence that revealed that some meat companies pressured workers to show up for work, even when sick or exposed to the virus and didn't provide sufficient protective gear or soap and water for hand washing. Some even stopped testing for COVID-19. These are horrifying findings in terms of the treatment of these workers, but also from a hygiene perspective for the customers. What's being done about this if anything?

FROMARTZ: Well, the companies have said that they're taking measures to create a safer workplace. We got those stories because we actually talked to workers in the plant as well as those who had fallen ill and their family members. Some of those conditions have been corrected, but in other cases, we're still hearing that problems are the same. And it's just the nature of an industry where you have a lot of people working in a cramped space, working on a very fast production line. And it's just very difficult, I think, to create a safe environment.

I will say that the federal government has come up with guidelines for these meat-packing plants to follow, but these are not regulations. They are only guidelines that are essentially recommendations that companies can follow voluntarily.

CHURCH: Sam Fromartz, thank you so much for talking with us. Appreciate it.

FROMARTZ: Thank you so much.

CHURCH: There has been a surge of unemployment among the Asian- American community. In New York, more than 140,000 Asian American workers have filed unemployment claims in the past four weeks alone. CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich has our report.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): For 100 years, Nom Wah Tea Parlor has been serving up dim sum as the oldest restaurant in New York City's Chinatown, but today it's staring down a different reality.

WILSON TANG, OWNER, NOM WAH TEA PARLOR: The future looks bleak.

YURKEVICH: That's because hundreds of restaurants in Chinatown have closed due to COVID-19, leading to thousands of laid-off or furloughed workers, including 40 from Wilson Tang's restaurant.

TANG: The main hub of Chinatown were all pretty empty.

YURKEVICH: The service industry has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19.

ED CHAN, GIG WORKER: This weekend it's the fifth weekend since my last paycheck.

YURKEVICH: Ed Chan works several jobs in the industry, as a school lunch caterer, wine vendor, guest service employee at sports arenas, and does marketing for trade shows. In March, he lost all four jobs and is still waiting for unemployment.

CHAN: Day after day, it's like Groundhog Day. You go on to the system. It's still pending.

YURKEVICH: He's one of more than 30 million Americans who filed for unemployment since mid-March and one of nearly 150,000 Asian Americans who filed in New York state in the past four weeks. It's a staggering 6,900 percent increase from one year ago, the largest among any one racial group in the state.

WELLINGTON CHEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CHINATOWN PARTNERSHIP: This particular virus affects severely our frontline workers, basically the retail and restaurant workers and the service industry. And so, when this thing hit, we were the first one to go down.

YURKEVICH: Tang closed Nom Wah Tea Parlor before the state's stay-at- home order was announced mid-March and told his employees to file for unemployment, a move he says goes against a proud Asian American culture. [04:40:00]

TANG: It takes really a pandemic for Chinese people to really go seek out additional help.

YURKEVICH: Racial discrimination against Asian Americans has also forced some workers to make a tough choice -- staying at home to avoid potential racism or fear confrontation going to work.

CHAN: There was that brief reference, you know, about the Chinese virus or the Wuhan virus, that term, for at least a short period of time. They have since, of course, corrected that. The damage has been done.

YURKEVICH: Meanwhile, Wilson Tang is preparing for an uncertain future.

TANG: I'm going to continue to be a voice for my community and a voice for my staff. I'm going to do my best to keep them safe.

YURKEVICH (on camera): Now, that dramatic increase in unemployment amongst Asian Americans here in New York may not even tell the full story, and that's because there are some 250,000 undocumented Asian immigrants here in New York, many of them working in the service industry. And they are not eligible to file for unemployment, and that means they're not counted. So that unemployment rate amongst Asians here in New York could actually be much, much higher because of that.

Vanessa Yurkevich, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: And we'll take a break here. Still to come, Russia hits a grim new milestone in the fight against the coronavirus. And working conditions for Russian medical personnel are under scrutiny after some doctors fell to their deaths.


CHURCH: Well, Russia now has the seventh highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. The latest figures from Johns Hopkins University show more than 150,000.


Now doctors' working conditions are under scrutiny after three fell out of windows in the past few weeks.

And CNN's Matthew Chance has reported from Moscow for years. He now joins us live from London. Matthew, the details are shocking. What all are you learning about what's happening to these doctors?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a strange one, isn't it, Rosemary? And because Russia has, I think it's fair to say, a record of silencing critics. When it emerged that not one, not two, but three doctors who had been critical of Russia's coronavirus response had fallen out of windows. Two of them are dead. One of them is very badly injured. It raised a certain amount of questions about whether this was a series of unfortunate accidents or whether something more sinister was at play.

CHANCE (voice-over): Behind the face masks two stressed out Russian doctors struggling in this country's coronavirus pandemic. We haven't got enough protection gear, the one on the right complains on social media. Now he says Russian police are accusing him of spreading fake news.

The other doctor says he is tested positive for coronavirus but was forced to work anyway. Now, he is fighting for his life after falling mysteriously from a hospital window.

This was him, Alexander Shulepov, shortly before his unexpected plunge. With a video statement completely retracting his allegations of mistreatment.

I was just overwhelmed with emotion, he explains, and scared of my condition. But of course, I was taken off shift and didn't treat any other patients.

Now, he is dealing with severe head injuries and can say no more. But he is not the only Russian doctor recently silenced by a suspicious window fall. In fact, he is the third.

Earlier this month, the acting head of this hospital in Siberia died after plunging out of a window during a meeting with health officials. Local television reported she opposed plans to convert her hospital into a coronavirus facility, citing lack of protective gear. I asked a colleague what happened.

It's all very strange, he says. She was a kind woman. Maybe with all this coronavirus, they pressured her with requirements, he suggest, do this, do that.

One Russian doctor who knows about the current pressure is Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the doctors' union, who has become an outspoken critic of Russia's coronavirus response, accusing the Kremlin of underplaying the pandemic.

This is her being manhandled and arrested last month, trying to deliver protective equipment. She says the strange case of the three Russian doctors in suspicious window falls, including another last month who work at the main cosmonaut training center is more about psychological stress on frontline staff than any sinister plot to silence critics.

ANASTASIA VASILYEVA, DOCTORS' ALLIANCE: No, I don't think that somebody is targeting doctors. No. The destruction of the healthcare system and of course, this means that it's very difficult to treat in such conditions a lot of patients with coronavirus.

CHANCE: We've seen the strain on Russian medical staff already, like these workers with coronavirus symptoms in southern Russia, crammed into a laundry cupboard with no space on the wards. Elsewhere, complaints abound of shift's lasting days or 10-hour waits in ambulances to admit patients. Russia may not be murdering its doctors, but the pressures of its pandemic could be what's really killing them.


CHANCE: And Rosemary, at this stage, there's absolutely no sign at all of those pressures easing up or the pandemic in Russia slowing down. In fact, we've just had the latest casualty figures that are coming to us from the Russian statistical office. And they're saying that within the past 24 hours, another 10,500 people have been confirmed as having been infected with coronavirus, with COVID-19. Bringing to 165,000 people, just over that figure, in fact, who have confirmed infections at this stage.

But there are even people in the Russian authorities admit that that may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true number of people that have this disease.

CHURCH: Yes, it is so shocking, and there is still, as you point out, so much we don't know about what is going on inside of Russia. Matthew Chance bringing us the latest from London. Many thanks.

And still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, how musicians are helping to heal patients and hospital workers on the frontlines. Back in just a moment.



CHURCH: COVID-19 patients stuck in hospitals have become accustom to the beeps and whines of machines, some breathing for those who can't. Musicians in New York are giving them a better soundtrack. CNN's Jeanne Moos has our report.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is not Carnegie Hall. The gowns are a world apart. And yet --

HENRIQUE EINSENMANN, PIANIST: As I was playing live in the ICU --

MOOS: Accomplished musicians are playing private concerts for COVID patients over phones placed by hospital beds.

EINSENMANN: -- and all I could hear were the beeps of their machines, which is a scary sound to be hearing.

MOOS: They don't expect applause for these performances. Many patients are unconscious, on ventilators.

MOLLY CARR, VIOLIST: The ego is left behind and what is left is, I want to be here for this person.

MOOS: The playlist ranges from Beethoven to "What a Wonderful World" to "La Vie En Rose", and almost always Bach.


This trio has played several dozen private concerts at New York Presbyterian Allen Hospital. The program was the brainchild of ICU Doctor Rachel Easterwood who was a trained musician before studying medicine. She told "The New York Times" how it felt when she helped stream a live concert.

DR. RACHEL EASTERWOOD, NEW YORK PRESBYTERIAN ALLEN HOSPITAL: I was standing there next to this COVID patient. It was so surreal. I thought to myself at that time, if I don't make it through this, then I've done what I'm supposed to do.

MOOS: She recruited some musicians from a nonprofit called Project Music Heals Us. Musicians call in. Most of the time they never see the patient, but still --

MICHELLE ROSS, VIOLINIST: I felt like I was in the room emotionally. I felt so, so close.

ANNA PETROVA, PIANIST: Sometimes this might be the last thing that they hear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have the phone at the bedside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. So we're going to play some music for you.

MOOS: Sometimes, they play for staff as well. But what sticks with musicians is the beeping, the chiming -- sometimes overpowering the music.

PETROVA: That beeping actually starts to react to the music that we play in a way that we feel they are breathing gets calmer.

MOOS: As if the patient had joined the trio.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: What a wonderful idea.

And thank you so much for your company. Stay safe, stay strong. I'm Rosemary Church. More news just ahead.