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CDC Director Forecasts 100,000 U.S Coronavirus Deaths by June 1; Wisconsin Supreme Court Strikes Down State's Stay-At-Home Order; United Kingdom Scientist Working on Unconventional Vaccine; Russian Health Officials Push Back on Wrong Reports; Restrictions Eased in Parts of New York, Maryland, Virginia, 48 States to Phase in Reopen Plans by Monday; China to Test All Wuhan Residents within 10 Days; Trump Fires State Department IG; Texas Restaurant Owner Weighs Economic Survival against His Health; Keith Urban Shows Future of Live Concerts During Pandemic. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired May 16, 2020 - 04:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN` ANCHOR (voice-over): Operation Warp Speed: President Trump hoping to get a coronavirus vaccine ready by the end of the year.

Sobering new projection: the director of the CDC now predicting the death toll in the U.S. will top 100,000 by June 1st.

Plus the American economy taking it on the chin, a historic collapse of retail sales while grocery store prices recording the largest increase in almost a half-century.

We're coming to you live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Natalie Allen, CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


ALLEN: Thank you for joining us. Ready or not, America is open for business. And that was the message Friday from the Trump White House. The president said that he is optimistic a COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in record time and he formally launched Operation Warp Speed to make it happen.

But even if it fails, Mr. Trump was adamant the U.S. would return to normal. As most states begin to relax restrictions and reopen businesses, there is no assurance that millions of laid off workers will get their jobs back.

Late Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a new $3 trillion economic relief package. But Republicans who control the Senate already have called it dead on arrival.

There are encouraging signs the rate of infection has slowed in many parts of the country but the virus continues to take a heavy toll. U.S. disease officials now say they expect more than 10,000 additional deaths in the U.S. by the end of this month.

In announcing Operation Warp Speed, President Trump made some questionable assumptions. Among them, a suggestion that many Americans already may be immune to the coronavirus. We get the details from CNN's Jim Acosta at the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As President Trump introduced the two men who will lead the government's race for a coronavirus vaccine, he made one thing clear: He's ready to reopen the country even without a medical breakthrough.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to make something clear. It's very important. Vaccine or no vaccine, we're back and we're starting the process.

ACOSTA: Still, one of the two leaders of what's being called Operation Warp Speed, Moncef Slaoui, said he's optimistic the U.S. could have hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine ready by the end of the year.

MONCEF SLAOUI, CORONAVIRUS VACCINE CZAR: I have very recently seen early data from a clinical trial with a coronavirus vaccine. And this data made me feel even more confident that we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020. And we will do the best we can.

ACOSTA: That's an ambitious timeline and many health experts aren't so sure it's achievable.

Coronavirus Task Force doctor Anthony Fauci is hopeful the government can meet that goal, but cautions Americans should be realistic.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: There's no guarantee that the vaccine is actually going to be effective. You can have everything you think that's in place and you don't induce the kind of immune response that turns out to be protective and durably protective.

Given the way the body responds to viruses of this type, I'm cautiously optimistic that we will, with one of the candidates, get an efficacy signal.

ACOSTA: At his own Rose Garden event, Mr. Trump appeared at times to downplay the importance of a vaccine.

TRUMP: Other things have never had a vaccine and they go away. So I don't want people to think that this is all dependent on a vaccine. But a vaccine would be a tremendous thing.

ACOSTA: The president also speculated that many Americans may already be immune to the virus, even though the scientific community isn't certain of that.

TRUMP: The vast majority, many people don't even know they have it. They have it or they have sniffles or they have a very minor sign.


TRUMP: And they recover, not only recover. They probably have immunity, whether it's short term, long term, but they have probably immunity.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump's comments came one day after he questioned the helpfulness of testing. TRUMP: It could be that testing is, frankly, overrated. Maybe it is

overrated. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn't do any testing, we would have very few cases. They don't want to write that. It's common sense.

ACOSTA: The president returned to his argument that schools should reopen in the fall, but without older teachers. Mr. Trump didn't sound concerned students could bring the virus home to their families.

TRUMP: I don't think that you should have 70-year-old teachers back yet. They should wait until everything is gone. I don't think you should have a professor that is 65 and has diabetes or has a bad heart back, necessarily, or somebody that's older than that.

But we want to see our schools back. We want to see our country start to work again.

ACOSTA: Fauci warned earlier this week, that is risky.

FAUCI: I think we have got to be careful if we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.

ACOSTA: As for a vaccine, the president said he would be willing to accept one from China, even as he's been warning of halting trade talks with Beijing.

QUESTION: What happens if it's China? Will the U.S. still have access to that vaccine?

TRUMP: I would say the answer to that would be yes.

ACOSTA: The president was touting other potential advances, like a new high-speed missile for Mr. Trump's pet project, the Space Force.

TRUMP: I call it the super-duper missile. Space is going to be -- it's going to be the future. We're now the leader in space.


ALLEN: And in the United States the Badger State is back open for business. On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the state's stay-at-home order was overreaching and many of the bars and restaurants there have wasted no time reopening. CNN's Omar Jimenez is there.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What you are seeing right here is basically the new normal for the pandemic in this part of the country. People, inside, enjoying their drinks and food, almost as if you would pre-pandemic.

This is in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The reason this is even allowed is because this particular county has no restrictions on business opening up. This means restaurants, bars, gyms, the responsibility on the health side is left in the hands of the business owners and the customers that show up to these places.

We spoke to the owner of this particular bar, who says he did not necessarily want to open up but, given the opportunity, he felt like he had to.

DAN ITALIANO, BAR OWNER: There are lots of other businesses around that were opening up and if I would've been the lone wolf in this, I would've died. But there's -- I think we are all trying to exercise as much caution and basically keep our livelihood.

JIMENEZ: Every place operates a little differently. Another restaurant we went to had masked waiters and waitresses, waiting on people, sitting down, outside, because they were not comfortable enough to seat people inside.

Let's remember, this is all happening because the state Supreme Court struck down the statewide stay-at-home order, leaving it to individual counties and jurisdictions to decide how they want to proceed.

This creates a dynamic that is concerning to some because the rules, a county over for example, are different than here. So if someone feels that their county's rules are too restrictive, they can just go one county over and then they bring home with them the risk of exposure from that county.

Now as for when we could see any form of statewide order, once again, that can only come from Democratic governor Tony Evers, working with the Republican-led legislature to put that in place.

But given their working relationship throughout this pandemic, a solution, anytime soon, may not be likely -- Omar Jimenez, CNN, Waukesha, Wisconsin.


ALLEN: Joining me now to talk more about these developments is Al Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at the University of Reading School of Pharmacy.

Good morning. Thanks for being with us.


ALLEN: And we heard that Wisconsin is joining other states in the U.S., almost all now which have reopened at some level. We heard the cautions that some businesses are taking there.

But the other big story is the CDC forecasting 100,000 deaths by June 1.

What level of concern do you have about restaurants, salons, beaches, most opening with caution and spacing but reopening at this time?

EDWARDS: I mean, I think the science is clear and the medicine is clear that we know how fast the virus spreads. And we know that a fair proportion of people get very severe disease. So I think what you can expect is, if the levels of cases have leveled out, we can expect in a few weeks' time that they will probably start to go up again.


EDWARDS: Because that is the way these infections work.

ALLEN: And to your point, I was going to follow up with saying, that despite the CDC's grim forecast of that many deaths, Johns Hopkins says the number of new cases reported each day is going down in more than half of the U.S. states except Texas.

But Georgia, for example, criticized for opening earliest, has seen its cases go down. So do you think this is a hopeful sign or, as you just alluded to, is this a calm perhaps before a storm?

EDWARDS: Two things. One, I think that everyone wants the deaths to be as low as possible. And so if there are forecasts and we are lucky enough not to have as many deaths as forecast, that is a brilliant outcome, exactly what we need.

But the second point is, and this is really hard to get your head around is, that the deaths and cases lag so far behind control measures, so what we're seeing now is a result of people's behavior two to five weeks ago.

ALLEN: Right. So we'll have to wait and see in a few days coming if that changes across the country.

And meantime, President Trump announced Operation Warp Speed Friday, his plan to have a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of the year with the help of the military distributing.

If the administration gets researchers, drug makers and the military ramped up on this task, is it possible?

EDWARDS: So again, it is really exciting to see so much cooperation. We have the same thing in the U.K., where you have different groups coming together, the scientists coming together with the engineers.

But there are two potential barriers that are being discussed a lot. First of all, the degree of uncertainty, so any of the vaccines may just not work. But we hope they will.

And then secondly, if we can get a vaccine that works, we need to do something equally unprecedented, which is to scale up the manufacture so that you can get many possible doses made in a short period of time.

ALLEN: By all accounts, it is a long shot. But so many researchers around the world are all in to try to somehow get this pushed through safely.

And while the world looks to press on, this virus continues to perplex. More children fell ill this week, many in Paris. And now a 9- year-old boy has died in France.

How does the complexity of this ever-changing virus affect the search for a cure or a vaccine?

EDWARDS: There is caution there. There are just so many cases that you would expect a few unusual outcomes. So what we're hopeful at the moment is that, though there are tragic cases with very young people having a serious outcome, what we hope is those are the rare people who are unlucky enough to have a combination of different factors.

And what we seem to be seeing is the majority of those young affected with the virus aren't affected. So it is a really a matter of scale. You have so many people being affected in a short period, you will see some of these really scary cases but they are in the minority.

ALLEN: Which is a bit of good news. As states and countries reopen, we still are in phase one of all of this. So we appreciate your insights. Al Edwards for us, Professor, thank you.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

ALLEN: Next here, the U.K.'s death toll pushes past 34,000 as officials promise testing for all care home residents and their employees. We'll go live to London for the latest on this front.

Also Russia reporting thousands of new cases as questions swirl about its official numbers. We'll have a live report from CNN's Moscow bureau chief.





ALLEN: The United Kingdom is still seeing a rise in new coronavirus casualties. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 34,000 people have died so far. That is out of more than 238,000 confirmed cases.

The British government is trying to lessen the threat for some of the country's most vulnerable populations. The U.K. health minister says all care home residents and staff will be tested for the virus by early June. Joining me now, international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson with more on this latest effort.

Good morning.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: And the health secretary in the U.K. is saying that they are putting a protective ring as he describes it around the care homes. The reason that there has been so much controversy around the care home issue is twofold.

Number one, how did the infections at such a high rate begin there?

Statistically we know that between the beginning of March and the beginning of May, 46,000 people in care homes died. That is double the figure for the same period last year. So that gives you a very clear understanding that lot of people there have died through COVID-19. There is that controversy.

But there is also controversy emerging over the government's approach now, the idea to test care home workers and care home residents before early June. There are questions swirling about that.

Is that still going to be effective to protect the people in the care homes?

The government is saying that it has committed $725 million additionally on top of the $3.9 billion that it already contributed to protecting care.

But the reality for care homes in the U.K. is they have been at the back end of the supply chain for protective equipment, even for attention.


ROBERTSON: And the concern is now that now when infections have become so high within care homes that what the steps that the government is putting into place now aren't enough to combat that and bring it back down.

So this is one of the many areas at the moment where the government is being heavily criticized but clearly a big focus on care homes.

But is it enough to stanch the high death rate there?

ALLEN: And that is the focus on the elderly. Now let's talk about children.

What is the latest on the U.K.'s efforts to talk about reopening schools?

ROBERTSON: The government wants to reopen, have a phased reopening, of schools beginning June 1st. And it would just be the reception, the first two classes in school year. Sixers as well would join.

The teachers' union has been criticizing the government's approach. They met with the government scientific advisers yesterday. They say that there is not enough being done to ensure that these environments, the schools, will be safe for teachers to move back into. Teachers I've spoken to saying -- have been telling me it is not clear

that they can keep the social distancing, even though that the school -- the children in the school would be reduced to sort of half their normal numbers.

But to keep them socially distanced would be very difficult. There is concern that the teachers would also, while teaching children in their classrooms, only half their normal class, that they would have perhaps responsibilities to continue the distanced learning.

So there are a lot of unanswered questions but the main one is that the government is not structuring this go back to school in a phased and comprehensive way. They point to how it has been done in Denmark and how it has been done in France, where, regionally, schools have opened. They have opened in regions where infection rates are low.

And at current times in the U.K., the infection rate, if you will, is between 0.7 and 1. And that is very close to the government threshold, the infection rate being too high if it goes above 1. So there are serious concerns being raised. So the underlying thing with the government, is a serious pushback from several significant teachers' unions.

ALLEN: All right. We'll wait and see what happens there. Thanks so much, Nic Robertson in London. Thanks.

And in Italy, restaurants and shops in the country's hard-hit Lombardy region will open Monday after a two-month lockdown. Italian museums will also open Monday. But the world-renowned Uffizi gallery in Florence will not open for another week. No word yet on when the Vatican museums will open.

And in Spain, they are expanding its first de-escalation phase to almost 70 percent of the population. And that allows for larger stores and other businesses to reopen in some capacity.

However, Barcelona and Madrid still have not been given the green light to move forward. The government also has issued a 14-day mandatory quarantine for international passengers entering the country.

In France, the national health agency is reporting there are now fewer than 20,000 people in the hospital with coronavirus. About 2,200 of them are in intensive care. From Thursday through Friday, 104 people in France died of COVID-19, taking the total death toll there to more than 27,500.

Coronavirus is spreading fast through Russia's 11 time zones. On Saturday alone, the country reported more than 9,000 new cases. Still, that is fewer than the day before. Russia, though, now has the second highest number of confirmed cases in the world, more than 272,000.

But the country has recorded a relatively low number of COVID deaths, a little more than 2,500. Let's get more perspective on this from CNN's Nathan Hodge, joining me from London with the very latest.

Good morning, Nathan.

NATHAN HODGE, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Good morning, Natalie. And as you had noted, there have been a lot of questions as Russia passed that grim milestone this week, now occupying second place in the world in terms of the overall number of confirmed coronavirus cases.

But many observers both inside and outside of Russia are asking questions on why the death rate seems to be so low relative to other countries. Nic Robertson was just speaking about the United Kingdom with over 30,000 deaths.


HODGE: Russia, with more confirmed cases, has had just over 2,500. So for weeks now, both critics inside of Russia and observers outside have been asking whether or not Russia is using some fuzzy math here to account for all of the deaths for coronavirus.

And the debate was further given fuel this week when Moscow authorities said that, in about 60 percent of the cases of suspected coronavirus, that is where they have carried out autopsies that they are attributing the cause of death to coronavirus only in cases when it is directly caused by coronavirus. So in many other cases, they will attribute to it could be heart attack or renal or stage four cancers.

So this has raised a lot of questions about whether or not there is underreporting of COVID-related deaths. And Russia seems to be at a point where they are not easing lockdown.

Vladimir Putin did say earlier this week that they would be looking sort of on a conditions basis to ease some of the lockdown and some of the restrictions around the country.

But in Moscow, the hardest hit part of the country, the mayor has said certainly until the end of the month that they won't be easing any of the restrictions, in fact, that they will be strengthening some of them.

ALLEN: All right. Nathan Hodge for us in London, thank you.

And here is a sad complication, another part of this coronavirus outbreak. Dozens of newborn babies awaiting adoption in Ukraine are stranded. A nationwide lockdown is preventing parents in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere from traveling to Ukraine to pick up their babies.

About 50 babies born to surrogate mothers are currently at a hotel in Kiev and several dozen other infants are at other clinics. A Ukrainian lawmaker is trying to help the parents enter country.

But the issue has raised concerns who want Ukraine to ban commercial surrogacy. Ukraine is not the only country dealing with this issue as parents can't get to their babies born to surrogates.

President Trump hopes for a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year. But even if it doesn't happen, many Americans are willing to take their chances as the country begins to reopen. We'll have the latest from around the United States next here.

Plus the blame game continues.

Did the virus begin in a wet market or a Chinese lab?

We're following the facts next.





ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all the around the world. I'm Natalie Allen. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: For the very latest on the reopening efforts around the United States, here is CNN's Nick Watt in Los Angeles.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across Louisiana, dinner and a movie is now an option once more, but your server might be masked.

COLLIN ARNOLD, DIRECTOR, NEW ORLEANS OFFICE OF HOMELAND SECURITY AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: We really have kind of crushed the curve and because -- it's due to our residents, really. They stayed at home.

WATT: Forty-eight states now have an opening plan under way. Today, half of New York state begins is long road back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I can do is get back to work and hope that they'll come.

WATT: Beaches in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will, we're told, be open in time for Memorial Day.

But New York's pause order extended another two weeks for millions in the state, including everyone in New York City, unless numbers improve.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), NEW YORK CITY: We need a massive citywide apparatus, testing, tracing.

WATT: Meanwhile, in Michigan, resistance to regulations goes on. The blue governor says they're red protesters.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): These are not just citizens who are unhappy about having to stay home. This is a political rally, essentially. WATT: That might actually delay reopening.

WHITMER: It's the congregating of big groups of people who aren't wearing masks, who aren't staying six feet apart that will perpetuate the community spread.

WATT: And April's retail numbers are out, another historic low, retail sales down 16.4 percent, clothing sales down nearly 90 percent.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: Most of the 50 states are going back to work in some form. So I like to look forward.

WATT: Ford will start making cars again Monday and restaurants will reopen in hard-hit Miami as the county looks to hire up to 1,000 contact tracers.

Texas just set a record, most recorded COVID deaths in 24 hours, gyms and offices still scheduled to reopen Monday.

In North Carolina, big box stores can reopen, but church gatherings still limited to just 10 people.

KEITH STONE, NASH COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA, SHERIFF: I have not enforced it and I don't intend to enforce it.

WATT: Other sheriffs say the same.

STONE: And I would rather you turn towards the lord than the liquor store.

WATT: Meanwhile, in Sin City, now you can buy a mask from a vending machine at the airport, as Caesars gets ready to reopen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the new world, there will only be three chairs and nobody will be able to be within six feet.


WATT: Good news from L.A., the USNS Mercy hospital ship just left, after seven weeks supporting the COVID-19 fight. The curve here has flattened.

So the beaches will be open soon in New York state but not New York City and the mayor explained why. He said people don't really drive in New York City. So they might all go out to Coney Island and you will just have a crush of people there.

Here in L.A., this weekend will be the first weekend with beaches open, a big test, can we social distance in the sand? -- Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


ALLEN: On Friday during that media event at the White House Rose Garden, President Trump again blamed China for the coronavirus pandemic. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This came from China. It should have been stopped in China. Should have been stopped right at the source. But it wasn't.


ALLEN: Trump claims that he has seen evidence which suggests that the coronavirus may have originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, but his own intelligence community says that it has made no such assessment. Alex Marquardt follows the facts for us.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The pandemic that has now blanketed the globe is universally accepted to have exploded out of the Chinese city of Wuhan. What is not known or agreed upon, is the exact origin. Now less a scientific question than a political one.

TRUMP: I think they made a horrible mistake and they didn't want to admit it.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The Trump administration has been stepping up the blame of the Chinese regime, leaning hard on the theory that the virus, known as SARS CoV-2, may not have come from Wuhan wet market, like China claims but leaked, accidentally, from a government affiliated lab.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I have said before, I've seen evidence that this likely came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. I'm happy to see other evidence that disproves that.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, points to the security risks at the Wuhan lab. According to cables reported by "The Washington Post," the State Department warned in 2018 about safety and management issues.

The body of evidence is circumstantial. U.S. intelligence agencies say there is no smoking gun but what they do believe is that the virus was not man-made and was not released purposefully.

The Trump administration is not ruling out that the virus came from elsewhere but it has been much more aggressive than other countries in pushing the lab theory, which foreign intelligence partners dispute.

SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: There is nothing we have that would indicate that was the likely source though you cannot rule anything out in these environments.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): That lack of certainty has allowed the Trump administration to use the lab theory to be more critical of the Chinese government.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON, FORMER CIA ANALYST: It makes a more compelling case for Chinese Communist Party malfeasance and cover ups and foisting this on the globe basically, which helps the administration shift blame.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Without more evidence, the World Health Organization, which was blasted by the Trump administration, says the lab theory is speculative.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The markets must have played the role somehow. Either the source of the outbreak or an amplifying setting, meaning a setting where the virus was introduced.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The virus could've been carried to the market or to the lab, which are eight miles apart. What is clear, health experts say, is that, at some point last year, the virus moved in nature from an animal to humans.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told "National Geographic," "Everything about the stepwise evolution, over time, strongly indicates that this virus evolved in nature and then jumped species." That does not discount the lab theory. The Trump administration and Republican allies in Congress argued the delay of China's warnings and its alleged stockpiling protective equipment bolster the possibility that the virus escaped the government lab since they likely would've known sooner.

Still, if it leaked from the lab and the government knew, former CIA China analyst, Chris Johnson, says, U.S. intelligence would likely have picked up on it.

JOHNSON: The administration is trying to make this case very hard. They would leak it if they had and they don't or it hasn't been leaked, so they probably don't.

MARQUARDT: One thing the Trump administration can point to when making the case that it is possible the virus escaped the lab in Wuhan through workers is that it has happened before, multiple times in fact. Not from Wuhan specifically but, in 2004, two lab workers in Beijing, so also in China, were infected with SARS.

And the year before, in Singapore, a student was also infected with SARS through accidental contamination. But for now, outside of the U.S., most everyone says it is highly unlikely that this virus came from a lab in Wuhan.

China, for its part, called it absurd and said the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is insane for pushing it -- Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: President Trump has fired another watchdog whose job is to hold government officials accountable.


ALLEN: Steve Linick has been the U.S. State Department inspector general since 2013. Mr. Trump did not spell out why he was being let go. But there is word from Capitol Hill that Linick had opened an investigation into U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo. A Democratic aide says that it concerns possible misuse of a political

appointee to perform personal tasks for Pompeo and his wife.

At a time when many are struggling to afford food, shoppers are paying more for groceries.

What is driving the record spike in prices at U.S. supermarkets?

We look into that.

And the pandemic is hitting the service industry hard. We'll meet one owner who is closing his restaurant in Texas but not because of the virus. We'll explain.




ALLEN: Many restaurants are shutting their doors for good because of the financial hardship the virus has brought. But the pandemic is forcing one Texas restaurant to close for a different reason. Our Ed Lavandera has this story from San Antonio.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Life is throwing a flurry of punches at Mike Nguyen. Last year, the 32-year-old opened his dream restaurant, Noodle Tree, in San Antonio, Texas, just after he was diagnosed with cancer.

Then the coronavirus pandemic upended everything. Two weeks ago, Nguyen told CNN's "OUTFRONT" he could not take the health risk of opening his dining room to customers.


MIKE NGUYEN, NOODLE TREE RESTAURANT: At the end of the day, it was that the money was not worth losing lives over it, losing -- you know, the people that supported me, this restaurant, it was not worth putting their life in danger.


LAVANDERA: How do you feel, Mike?

NGUYEN: It depends on the day.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): This week, Nguyen learned his lymphoma diagnosis has taken a turn for the worse.

LAVANDERA: You're fighting for your life?


NGUYEN: It is progressively getting worse. My mind is telling me go, go, go but my body is like, no.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Nguyen has made the painful decision to shut the restaurant down. Sunday will be the last day.

NGUYEN: How are you, little lady?

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Each takeout order he walks out is a chance to see loyal customers one last time.

NGUYEN: All right, see you.

LAVANDERA: When you walk out of here this weekend --

NGUYEN: Until next time --

LAVANDERA: -- you don't really know for sure if you're coming back?

NGUYEN: I don't. Worst-case scenario, we never open these doors up. I can say that, I did not fail because my food wasn't good or that our service wasn't good. I failed because of something that was out of my control.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Mike Nguyen was diagnosed with cancer in 2018. Instead of sitting back, Nguyen decided to open the restaurant. He was not going to let lymphoma take this dream away.

Noodle Tree thrived. But when the pandemic struck, he had to let go of his workers.

NGUYEN: This restaurant is very near and dear to my heart. I fought for it. And that's why, for me, it is more than just a restaurant. It is a symbol of fighting. And that is why it is kind of heartbreaking that I have to close because it means that I have to step away from the fight for now.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): With one assistant, Mike Nguyen is cooking what could very well be the last meals of his treasured restaurant. If he survives, the restaurants survives.

NGUYEN: I'm going to fight, fight and fight, for not only with my bout with cancer but also for this restaurant and I'll fight. I'll go down swinging if I have to.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): But for now, the lights of Noodle Tree will be turned off.

LAVANDERA: Mike Nguyen remains hopeful that, one day, he will be able to reopen his restaurant. He says he has been battle tested in life and that he is a big believer in adversity. And how you respond to adversity says a lot about who you are. And that is what he is counting on right now -- Ed Lavandera, CNN, San Antonio, Texas.


ALLEN: We wish him the very best, of course. The largest supermarket chain in the U.S. is ending its hero pay for

workers this Sunday. Kroger gave employees working through the pandemic an extra $2 an hour. Meanwhile, the price of just about everything at U.S. grocery stores has gone up.

Have you noticed?

CNN's Dianne Gallagher explains why.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If it felt like you were paying more on those grocery shopping trips last month, it wasn't your imagination. Grocery store prices spiked the most that they had in one month since 1974, nearly 50 years.

And look, we're talking everything here, fruits, vegetables, cereal, meat, dairy, it all went up; eggs jumped by 16 percent. And this as unemployment skyrocketed. Many Americans are dealing with much smaller budgets right now.

And for some of them, food insecurity for the very first time. Now economists tell CNN that the grocery store sticker shock stems mostly from the explosion in demand and a supply chain that was really slow to react.

So as those stay-at-home orders went into effect, schools and restaurants started closing. People started cooking at home a lot. At the same time, the meat processing plants started shutting down because the workers, who are mostly black and brown, immigrants, refugees, became sick at an alarming rate with COVID-19.

More than 30 of them have died from the virus so far. And the nation's top union has blasted Kroger's decision to end its hero bonus, pointing out the pandemic is not over; at least 65 grocery store workers have died from COVID-19. That extra $2 per hour that employees were getting for being on the front lines, that ends this weekend.

But Kroger said that it is instead offering an up to $400 thank you payment. Now restaurant owners are also dealing with this sticker shock as they work to reopen. Wholesale beef prices hits record numbers this week. One restaurant owner told us that, if I can reopen, I'll probably have to increase my menu prices if this does not change, which doesn't bode well in this economy for an already struggling industry -- Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Atlanta.


ALLEN: And if you're wondering about the future of live music and concerts amid the pandemic, musician Keith Urban may have shown us what the real life experiment, that is coming up.





ALLEN: COVID lockdowns have forced theaters on Broadway to go dark, the hiatus costing the industry more than $1 billion in projected revenue.



ALLEN (voice-over): And now Disney's "Frozen" became the first musical to take its bows permanently due to the pandemic. The adaptation of the hit animated film was struggling financially during its two-year run before it was canceled.

Two other planned productions have also been scrapped, they include the Martin McDonagh play, "Hangman," as well as the highly anticipated revival of Edward Albee's classic, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."

Who doesn't love that one. Producers are still considering whether the musical comedy, "Beetlejuice" could return to the Great White Way after it had its final performance March 11the.

Country music star Keith Urban has demonstrated that socially distanced concerts are possible. The Grammy award winner organized a private thank-you concert at a drive-in movie theater. Thursday night outside Nashville, more than 200 medical workers were able to enjoy Urban's music, live from the safety of their cars.




KEITH URBAN, SINGER: God bless you guys, God bless the U.S., God bless the health care workers. Thank you so much and God bless the drive- ins. Come on.


ALLEN: Great idea. Keith Urban spoke with CNN Friday about the show and the future of live music. Here he is.


URBAN: First of all, we've got to play, we've got to play somewhere, it's what we do.

So I think the idea of playing to people in vehicles is a bit of a no- brainer, figuring out, scaling that up to play more people. Doing it, you know, in a safe way with the guidelines. I mean, we spent a month putting this particular concert together.

Even though it wasn't for a paying public, it was specifically for Vanderbilt University Medical Center. So all the people there last night were doctors, nurses, health care workers, emergency responders, front liners, they were -- everybody was in that field and we gave away every ticket last night to them.

So it was a way to see what this could look like, but it's definitely a potential. I think you can see potentially in massive parking lots. I mean, you know, country concerts are renowned for their tailgate partiers, I think the concert's just going to be the tailgate party now.


ALLEN: We hope so. That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. You are welcome to follow me on Instagram or Twitter. I'll be back in a moment with another hour of news.