Return to Transcripts main page


Israeli Defense Forces Strike Building Used by Media Organizations Such as Al Jazeera and Associated Press; New CDC Guidelines Allow Any Fully Vaccinated Person to No Longer Wear Masks or Social Distance; Gas Stations in U.S. Southeast Continue to Experience Shortfalls after Gas and Oil Pipeline Shutdown by Hackers; Video Released of Police Pepper Spraying and Tasing Black Man with Mental Health Issues at South Carolina Detention Center before He Dies; Associate of Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz Agrees to Plea Deal on Charges Including Sex Trafficking; Restaurant in Utah Allows Customers to Eat Inside without Masks if They Can Show Proof of COVID Vaccination; Bengal Tiger Goes Missing in Houston, Texas. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired May 15, 2021 - 10:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Happening now in the Newsroom.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing.

SANCHEZ: State governments and local businesses dropping mask mandates, following the new CDC guidance for vaccinated people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's great. I love it. It's like another world right now.

SANCHEZ: But amid the excitement, there is confusion about how the new guidance will be implemented.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time I pulled up, the person in front of me just ran out, just ran out, just ran out.

SANCHEZ: Gas stations across the southeast still tapped out, even after that massive gas pipeline restart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg has struck a deal with prosecutors.

SANCHEZ: A former associate of Congressman Matt Gaetz set to plead guilty to federal charges and cooperating with investigators in a sprawling probe. What that could mean for Gaetz.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody knows where India is at. India is there. India is out there.


SANCHEZ (on camera): And a Bengal tiger still missing in the Houston area. Newsroom starts right now.

Good morning and thank you for joining us. It is Saturday, May 15th. I'm Boris Sanchez.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: It is the middle of the month. Good morning to you, everyone. I'm Amara Walker. You are in the CNN Newsroom. Good morning.

And we begin with breaking news in the escalating conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Moments ago, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a 12-story building in Gaza that was housing several news outlets, including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and residential apartments were also in that building. CNN's Nic Robertson joins us now from Israel near the Gaza border. Nic, Al Jazeera says that it was warned to evacuate about an hour before that strike took place. What are you learning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, well, Hamas is saying that they will retaliate. They're saying they will retaliate against Tel Aviv. That's a warning they're putting out to residents in that area in Tel Aviv, they say because of the targeting of that building that was used by media, by Al Jazeera, by the Associated Press. The Israeli Defense Forces are saying that building not only housed media organizations and regular apartments, but it also had military intelligence installations run by Hamas' military intelligence unit. So the Israeli Defense Forces are saying that it was a legitimate target, that a warning was given for everyone in that building to get out, and that's why it was targeted.

And just as we were coming on air there, I could hear the sound of intercept missiles, trying to intercept rockets coming out of Gaza. Is that the rockets that Hamas was promising to fire toward Tel Aviv? Not clear. But this has this afternoon certainly escalated the tensions Hamas threatening, and we know already today Hamas fired rockets in the Tel Aviv area. The sirens earlier today went off twice and a 50- year-old man was killed on the street there in one of the small towns just outside Tel Aviv.

SANCHEZ: And it does not appear that there are any signs that de- escalation will take place any time soon. Nic Robertson reporting from the Israel-Gaza border, thank you so much.

Back in the United States, major changes are under way as millions of Americans enjoy their first full weekend with loosened COVID restrictions.

WALKER: Nearly every state has ended or plans to end its mask mandates soon, and a growing number of retailers are allowing customers in without masks. But the abrupt change has led to confusion and concern. The CDC saying more than 155 million people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, including about 2.4 million children who are under 18.

SANCHEZ: Yes, but vaccine hesitancy remains a barrier to achieving the goal of herd immunity. Unions representing grocery store workers and retail workers are concerned that their members are going to wind up becoming vaccine police, and the FAA and TSA are reminding people that masks still have to be worn on all public transport as the numbers of post lockdown travelers continue to rise.

WALKER: Polo Sandoval joining us now with the latest. And Polo, after a year of restrictions, I think a lot of people have been ready to get back to normal. But we have to keep in mind, we are still in the middle of a pandemic.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Amara, there are a lot of people who are still not comfortable removing that mask here in New York City. There's still plenty of mask wearing that continues to happen here. Remember, what the CDC is considering here are the latest statistics showing an increase in vaccinations administered and a decrease in new COVID cases, so they felt confident in refreshing the guidance here.

We also heard from the head of the NIH just recently saying we are on the right path, and it is advisable, or at least recommended for at least some of these fully vaccinated adults to actually remove the mask if they choose to do so. But the head of the NIH also saying this story is far from over. There are many who still have not been vaccinated.


SANDOVAL: Several state governors and big retailers signaled a return to normal on Friday in the U.S. a day after the CDC said it is safe for fully vaccinated people to remove their face masks in most settings.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, BIDEN CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: People who feel, which they should now based on the data, that it is safe for them not only outdoors, but indoors, they should feel comfortable in not wearing a mask.

SANDOVAL: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday the state, which recently battled a surge in coronavirus cases, will lift its mask requirement for fully vaccinated people effective this morning. Several states have already taken that step. Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont, and Virginia ended their mask mandates yesterday. That's after the CDC on Thursday changed its mask guidelines and said fully vaccinated people no longer need to keep their distance from others outside their household. Several national retailers followed suit. Walmart, Costco, Sam's Club, and Trader Joe's announced Friday they are no longer required to wear masks in some of their stores. And Publix supermarkets announced that starting today fully vaccinated customers will not be required to wear facemasks in their stores. Starbucks will make facial coverings optional for vaccinated customers starting on Monday the company announced late on Friday in a post on their website.

The CDC trying to make things less confusing with this new list of mask guidelines. There's at least one group still scrambling for answers, parents of kids younger than 12. Children and educators should expect to return to school in person and fulltime in the fall, that's according to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Children who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 will still need to wear masks in the classroom this fall said Dr. Anthony Fauci on Friday.

FAUCI: What hasn't changed is what's going on for the unvaccinated group. And the unvaccinated group, the elementary schoolchildren, nothing has really changed for them. I think that's the thing we need to clarify.


SANDOVAL: Here in New York state, Governor Andrew Cuomo has not yet said if they will be revisiting the mask mandate. Right across the river in New Jersey, we did hear, however, from Governor Murphy who says they are confident they will get to that point, that health state officials will get to the point where they can tell residents that if you've been fully vaccinated and you remove the mask indoors, you are going to -- or at least you should be OK to do that. But the governor also saying they're not there yet. They're going to just wait a few more weeks, Boris and Amara.

SANCHEZ: Taking extra precautions there. Polo Sandoval from New York, thanks so much.

WALKER: And joining us now to discuss all the headlines and to answer some of our very pressing questions is Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst and former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. Doctor, as always, great to have you on. First of all, it is an exciting moment. We should mention that, because this definitely is a milestone in this past year that all of us just want to forget. But I know, Dr. Wen, you've been quite vocal about this. You were shocked by the new CDC guidelines. Tell us why. Is it too soon?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It is. The CDC went from zero to 100 overnight. Last week they didn't even have any clarity about whether vaccinated people can be wearing masks outdoors or whether they needed to do that outdoors. And then they went from that to vaccinated people can do everything, which I actually agree with. I do think that the vaccines protect you very well, and if you so choose you can go indoors, you can basically do whatever you want if you're vaccinated.

The only problem is, if there is no verification of vaccination status, we are now exposing the two-thirds of the country that are not yet fully vaccinated to potentially unvaccinated people. The CDC is reliant on the honor code, and we are seeing that the honor code is already not working, that there are already many states and businesses that are essentially just taking their guidance and saying that means the mask mandates and distancing all needs to end. And what that means is we've just made life so much less safe for those who are not yet vaccinated and for those who are immunocompromised and may not get the full benefit of the vaccines.

SANCHEZ: Good morning, Dr. Wen.


I wanted to ask you about something that Polo brought up in his story, and that is how young kids are going to model their behavior after their parents. In a situation where parents are allowed to do certain things, if they're vaccinated, they can take off their masks indoors, according to the CDC guidelines, but kids younger than 12 can't get vaccinated. So what do they do? How do you have that conversation as a parent?

WEN: It's something I've been thinking a lot about because I have a three-and-a-half-year-old and I also have a one-year-old. By the way, the one-year-old is not able to mask, and I actually am very worried about this. What if I'm taking her to the grocery store or to the pharmacy? Before, everybody else around us was masked, and so that helps to protect my one-year-old. But now if we go and most of the people are unmasked, I have no way to know if they're unvaccinated and unmasked, and therefore a potential danger to my children.

I do think that with a three-and-a-half-year-old year old it's important for parents to continue to model masking. It will be hard for me to explain to a three-year-old that I'm not wearing a mask because I'm vaccinated, but he still has to be wearing a mask because other are a danger to him. That's a challenging one to do.

But I think there's a broader question as well, which is we know that vaccinated parents are well protected themselves. They also have a decreased chance of transmitting the virus to their children. But there's still that chance, and I think some parents are going to say the chance is low, so I'm going to do whatever I was doing pre- pandemic. I think there are other parents that are taking a lot more caution, like my family. We're saying, for example, my husband and I, we're vaccinated, our children are not, and so we will see our friends indoors who we know are fully vaccinated. We'll definitely do everything outdoors because the risk of transmission is low.

However, we're not going to go to crowded bars where people are breathing on us who are unvaccinated potentially. We're not going to be going to the gym in high-intensity classes with mask-less people. If I'm going to indoor church services where there is full capacity. I'm definitely going to be keeping my mask on. And I would advise other parents who want to continue to be cautious to do that as well.

WALKER: Let's elaborate on that, because like you, our children are actually the same age. I have a daughter who is three and a son who is almost one. And it's funny, because I'm not having conversations with my three-year-old to put on her mask. I'm threatening her or trying to bribe her to put that mask on before we go into a store. So yes, there is still some concern there. Yes, my husband and I were both fully vaccinated. But the question is, I think you raised this example, which is a good one, what do we do when we take our kid to the grocery store, and also on play dates? WEN: Right. The way that my family -- again, we are using a lot of

caution here, and some families decide that's overkill and they don't want to do that. But for us, we see the data. We know the data that there are 3.8 million children who have been infected by COVID-19, that nearly a quarter of new infections are in children under the age of 18, that thousands of children have already had this multisystem inflammatory syndrome. More than 300 children have died from COVID. We're just being extra cautious here.

And so I think for us, we're saying we can hold off for a little bit longer. My husband and I will do things that we know are very safe, for example, being around other fully vaccinated people. We'll take precautions if we're going to be around others who are not fully vaccinated, including continuing to wear a mask if we're around a lot of people.

And in the meantime, we're fine with having our three-year-old having play dates outdoors without masks. But if our children are going to be indoors with others who are not fully vaccinated, first of all, we want to limit those indoor settings because they're not vaccinated. Other unvaccinated people are at high risk to them, so we're going to limit those settings. But if we are going to be in those settings, I really want those people to be masked. And if now in stores they're not masked, I think I'm going to be a lot more careful about bringing my unvaccinated children into these public settings. And that's the problem with the CDC guidance, it's not fair to those who are not yet vaccinated.

SANCHEZ: And Dr. Wen, there is a problem presented by having faith in the general public, because one of the potential problems here are free riders, as they're so called, people that will lie about being vaccinated in order to avoid wearing masks indoors. How do you screen for that? How do you try to mitigate the issues created by that?

WEN: Well, that's the problem. The CDC, in coming out with their guidance should have realized that this was an issue. The White House, as I understand, has already been working on helping businesses to create these vaccine requirements, proof of verification. This really should have been coordinated better because imagine if the White House at the same time that the CDC released the guidance also came out with those requirements. That would have been a nice one-two. They could have said, OK, we think that vaccinated people are very safe, here's how you can check for vaccine verification.

Now the onus is entirely on businesses that, understandably, they don't know and can't be asking people to show proof of verification every time they come in the door. This is something that really required federal guidance.


And I hate to say this, but the Biden team made a major tactical and policy mistake here, and I think there could be real consequences on potentially increasing the rate of spread of COVID-19, especially when only a third of the U.S. is actually fully vaccinated. It's too soon to be going this far. WALKER: Yes, 36 percent. And it does add to the confusion, I must say,

at least on a personal level because I'm Googling, when I go to Publix, will a mask be required, but at Kroger it's not, but Trader Joe's and Costco you don't need a mask. And I go to all these stores. And so it's going to create a lot of confusion, I think, in reality.

But let's talk more, Dr. Wen, you were mentioning the spread of the virus. What kind of risks are we talking about when it comes to the kind of rollback that we might see in the progress, the amazing progress that we have made thus far? Are you concerned about another surge?

WEN: Potentially. So here's the issue. Vaccinated people, I'm not worried about. They are not a threat to public health. They are well protected, the rate of them spreading it to others is very low. We have a lot, though, of unvaccinated people in the country. And in certain communities the vaccination rate is very high, in others it's very low. Why didn't the CDC create criteria for lifting masking requirements based on vaccination rates? They could have said once a particular community reaches 70 percent vaccination, for example, of one dose or two doses, whatever the criteria is, then you can say no more requirement for indoor masking. That's the intermediate step that I think a lot of us were expecting. And so it was really abrupt and stunning that they did away essentially with masking and distancing overnight.

WALKER: It will be interesting to see how things play out from here. Dr. Fauci has been saying this will hopefully incentivize people by seeing the vaccinated getting their freedom back, but without proof of vaccination, I don't know how that's going to incentivize people. I know that you've been saying that this is not going to serve as an incentive. Dr. Leana Wen, appreciate the conversation. Still so many questions, but appreciate your time. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Thank you, Doctor.

WEN: Thank you.

WALKER: And later this hour, we will tell you about a restaurant in Utah where masks and social distancing aren't required, but if you want to go inside, you are going to have to show proof that you've been fully vaccinated. The owner will be joining us. He is facing fierce backlash. We'll talk to him about the vaccine requirement next.

SANCHEZ: Colonial Pipeline says their systems have returned to normal operations following a cyberattack that caused a massive gas shortage across several states. But service stations up and down the east coast, still many of them without fuel this morning.

WALKER: Experts say the issue is that the 5,500 mile pipeline flows at just five miles an hour, meaning it could take days for gasoline to reach all the places in need of refilling.

Let's go to CNN's Natasha Chen in Charleston, South Carolina, where many gas stations are still out of service. What's happening where you are, Natasha? NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Amara, this one is out of

service. They haven't seen any fuel supply in several days. There are other gas stations, though, around this area in Charleston who did get supply overnight. So they were out and now they are back this morning. So we're seeing slow improvement.

Across the state it's still about a 50/50 chance whether you're going to hit a gas station with gas or not. Here in Charleston it's a little bit better than that. We're seeing about two-thirds of the stations now with gas, according to the Gas Buddy app, which of course, is dependent on crowd sourcing. So it really depends on drivers' self- reporting what they see at the pump. Right now, there is some improvement across the southeastern states, most notably we've been talking about D.C., the majority of gas stations there not having any fuel. But as of this morning, that now seems to be at 81 percent. So that's some improvement. Still quite a situation they have over there.

And, of course, there are states of emergency still in effect, including in Georgia, where the gas tax has been suspended, and there are efforts to prevent price gouging in many of these states.

SANCHEZ: And Natasha, as far as the group behind this hack goes, the so-called DarkSide hacker group, has the Biden administration made any progress on finding them and perhaps prosecuting a case against them?

CHEN: Yes, so the last we heard on this was from when President Biden spoke on Thursday regarding this group that he said were traced back to people in Russia. But he made it clear that the Russian government was not to blame here. He did say, however, that Moscow needed to do more to prevent ransomware attacks like this from within their borders, and he didn't rule out a retaliatory cyberattack on this group. So a lot of that is still being worked out.


President Biden did anticipate, did estimate that we should be seeing more normalcy at the pump by the end of the weekend. But of course, as you all just mentioned, this flow, even though Colonial Pipeline is back to normal operations, it's going to take a while for that gas to reach the pumps here. And so people just need to hang in there for a few more days.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it may be an uphill battle getting Russia, with its own issues of cyber espionage and cyber sabotage, to crack down on this group of hackers. Natasha Chen reporting from South Carolina, thanks so much.

Still ahead, startling new video of a mentally ill black man who died in police custody after being tased and pepper sprayed several times. Hear what the sheriff's department is now saying about the incident.

WALKER: Also, a new twist into the investigation into GOP Congressman Matt Gaetz. Details of a plea deal a former friend of his has struck with prosecutors.


WALKER: We are seeing new, disturbing video of what happened moments before a black man with mental health issues died at a detention center in South Carolina.

SANCHEZ: Yes, the footage shows deputies pepper spraying and tasing 31-year-old Jamal Sutherland back in January as they were forcibly removing him from his cell in North Charleston. This is now raising questions about how law enforcement handles encounters with the mentally ill. CNN's Ryan Young has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come to the door!

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Newly released video shows the events leading up to the death of 31-year-old Jamal Sutherland, a black man awaiting a bond hearing for an alleged misdemeanor assault. Sutherland, whose family says he was diagnosed with mental health issues at a young age, was in voluntary treatment at a mental health facility in North Charleston, South Carolina. On the night of January 4th, authorities responding to an altercation that broke out at the facility, arrested Sutherland after he allegedly assaulted a staff member. His family says they were never notified and are speaking out for the first time since the video was released.

AMY SUTHERLAND, JAMAL SUTHERLAND'S MOTHER: We got no information from anybody. We never knew he was taken from the mental health center.

YOUNG: Sutherland died in custody the next morning at the North Charleston detention center after he was removed from his cell to attend the bond hearing. The newly released bodycam video shows the timeline of what occurred in the moments leading up to Sutherland's death. It shows officers at his cell door for several minutes telling him to put his hands out to be cuffed, warning if he doesn't comply, they'll use force.

Sutherland can be heard yelling, and officers say he was holding a spoon, saying I'm warning you, and officers can be seen spraying pepper spray into his cell a short time later.

After several more failed attempts to coax him out, he is hit with more pepper spray. About a minute later, the doors open again. This time deputies tase Sutherland and tell him to get on his stomach. He can be heard asking, what's the meaning of this? Deputies enter the cell, telling him to relax and not to resist. Deputies tase Sutherland multiple times to get control of him in the cell. He can be seen and heard screaming on the ground. Two minutes later, Sutherland is eventually cuffed and slid out of his cell. His family saw the video for the first time just a week ago.

SUTHERLAND: Mental illness does not give anybody the right to put their hands on my child.

YOUNG: Sutherland's father says a mental health professional in the cell with his son would have changed the outcome.

JAMES SUTHERLAND, JAMAL SUTHERLAND'S FATHER: He was already afraid and confused about the situation, and there was nobody in there to talk to him with any compassion, to try to reason with him.

YOUNG: Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano is speaking out.

SHERIFF KRISTIN GRAZIANO, CHARLESTON COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA: I will not tolerate any acts of violence against our citizens or our residents at our facility, and I will not -- any acts of destruction that jeopardize the safety of that community.


WALKER: And that was CNN's Ryan Young reporting.

Just ahead, new trouble for Matt Gaetz. A former friend of the Florida congressman agrees to plead guilty to charges including sex trafficking of a minor. What he's telling the feds and what it could mean for Gaetz.



SANCHEZ: Paying thousands of dollars for sex with young women, drug- laced multi-person rendezvouses at hotels, just some of the activities a former associate of Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz will plead guilty to in a deal with prosecutors.

WALKER: Joel Greenberg's 86-page agreement does not mention Congressman Gaetz, however. Gaetz faces a Justice Department investigation into whether he had sex with a 17-year-old and broke six trafficking laws, which he denies. CNN's Katelyn Polantz is following this. And Katelyn, how might this plea deal tie into the probe of Congressman Gaetz?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: This is a building block, essentially, in a larger investigation. So this is a guilty plea deal we know is coming from Joel Greenberg, and this is a friend of Matt Gaetz. He had been charged with 33 counts. That's a lot, that's what you would call like throwing the book at someone. And now he's pleading down to six counts. So that's a large reduction in what he was facing for a potential sentence.

And that sort of deal is something that you make if you can help investigators substantially. He is going to have to testify to a grand jury if he's asked, testify in a trial if he's asked, and he's also admitting to a lot of things that he was charged with in detail.

So what we saw in this very significant and long plea deal documentation yesterday in court is that we saw Greenberg admitting to a lot of activity in Florida, a host of crimes, abuse of his public office when he was a tax collector, but also sex trafficking a minor, a girl that he had met over a sugar daddy website, and then had been sending Venmo payments in the hundreds of dollars to, meeting at hotels. And in some of these instances the plea deal references that there were other people that were witness to this relationship and around him when he was interacting with this young girl.

Now, with this -- it's not exactly clear what this means for Gaetz at this time. Like you said, he's not referenced in the actual plea deal documentation.


And Gaetz has come out and said that in a statement he doesn't seem to be named or referenced, he points that out, and says that he has not had sex with a minor and has never paid for sex. Gaetz also acknowledges that Greenberg was admitting to and is admitting to stalking someone, where he did falsely accuse them, another man with having sex with a minor. So with all of this on the table, it's just another step, and we're still learning more about an ongoing investigation. Boris and Amara?

WALKER: Very interesting stuff. Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much for that.

And as cities across the U.S. begin to loosen their COVID restrictions, one Salt Lake City bar has reopened its dining room, but with a slight catch. It's for vaccinated customers only, and you'll have to prove that you're vaccinated. We're talking to the owner next.



WALKER: Recently Utah lifted all public health orders related to COVID, declaring they had reached an endgame to the pandemic. But the state is far from herd immunity, with only 29 percent of the population fully vaccinated. Now businesses there are left to decide their own social distancing measures, like this popular bar Salt Lake City bar that is opting not to require masks, but you have to be fully vaccinated and show proof to get inside. It's a strict rule. But supporters say they look forward to eating safely and without fear. But, of course, it's also creating controversy.

Here with me now is the co-owner of The Bayou, Mark Alston. Mark, a pleasure to have you on. Thanks for joining us. And congratulations because I know this is your first week of dine-in service after a year, a full year of doing takeout. First off, if I'm a patron who wants to come in, what are the requirements to get into your restaurant, first of all?

MARK ALSTON, CO-OWNER, "THE BAYOU": Right now, we're requiring everybody to show proof of vaccination. And we are a bar, so you also have to have a driver's license. The driver's license has been the same since 2002. Just another piece of paper is new this week.

WALKER: Could it be a photo of the vaccination card?

ALSTON: Totally fine. A photo, like a record of the health department sending you something, anything is fine. We're pretty easy about it. WALKER: I know, Mark, you've gotten some backlash from people who

disagree with this new requirement. I want to first play some of the voicemails that people have been leaving at your restaurant. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for calling The Bayou. You have reached us outside of our open hours. If you are calling about coming into The Bayou, please make sure to have read our reopening page on our website for all of the important details, including our rapidly changing hours. Also note that no reservations are needed.

If you are calling to express your frustration with our new policies, please make sure you have actually read our reopening page before trying to argue your point. That page should dispel the myth that we are either discriminating or are somehow secret communists.


WALKER: Secret communists. So excuse me, I meant to say that this is the voicemail that people get when they call your restaurant. You've been receiving some backlash. People calling you secret communists and the sort. Tell me more about the hate you've been getting and how much of it.

ALSTON: Fortunately, the hate has tapered off dramatically, and now it's probably 10-to-one support. But, man, the people -- there are a lot of people out there that are super angry and mad that they can't come into a restaurant that they've never come into before, that they never had any intention of coming into before, that they probably don't even live within 100 miles of, but somehow, they're super upset they can't come here. It's mind-boggling.

WALKER: So tell us why you took this step. Why is the mask requirement not enough for you, where people have to walk in with their masks on, but if they sit down in your restaurant, they can take it off to eat and talk?

ALSTON: So we've been closed, like you said, since last March. And because a lot of us know intuitively that masks in restaurants are fairly comical and mostly theatre for us, because as soon as you sit down at the table you have to take your mask off to eat and drink. This room is an enclosed space. You have 50, 100 people in here eating and drinking at their table, and then put their mask on to go to the bathroom, there's just not a lot of protection. And I understand why they did that, because they didn't want to shut down restaurants across the country. But there's just no way to operate the restaurant safely with people who aren't vaccinated because they will spread the virus. It's just impossible to control.

WALKER: I'm with you on that one. My husband and I never ate indoors ever, especially before we were fully vaccinated, because it just didn't make sense to us to sit down indoors and take off our masks when you know that that's where the virus can easily circulate. I think, Mark, you were mentioning that you lost well over $100,000 during this pandemic, and now you're barely breaking even, even with you and your staff working seven days a week.


WALKER: I guess some people might ask, well, then, isn't this going to hurt the bottom line by requiring proof of vaccinations? Does that concern you?

ALSTON: Yes, but of course it's going to hurt the bottom line. We've lost customers that are actual customers of ours that say they won't ever come in again. However, I can't make anyone sick. We lost one of our musicians, died to COVID this year. And I would have felt horrible if we were a part of that.

So I can't -- sorry, it's really emotional. I can't be a part of making anyone sick. And so we have a responsibility for our customers, even if they won't take a responsibility for themselves, we have that responsibility. Just like if someone comes in here, we're responsible for making sure they don't get drunk. Same thing, I'm responsible for making sure we're not spreading COVID in our community. And because of that, we just couldn't be open. We could have been open, but I wouldn't have been able to sleep. Do you know what I mean?


WALKER: Yes, absolutely. And I didn't realize one of your musicians passed away from COVID. I'm so sorry to hear that. Did the musician's passing have a lot to do with this decision that you made?

ALSTON: No -- well, this decision, not really. We decided in the very beginning we wouldn't make anyone sick. We haven't had a single case of COVID spread in our restaurant, and I don't know very many restaurants that can say that that have been open all year. When that happened, when we found out about it, it was the worst. We've been closed all year, and then this is still happening. But we still can't be part of it, you know what I mean?

WALKER: Understood, I completely understand.

And also, what about your staff? Do you expect them to be all fully vaccinated? And what has their reaction been when clearly your priority is to protect them as well?

ALSTON: Well, fortunately, our staff is an amazing bunch of people. One of the reasons we decided to open is everyone was getting their vaccinations anyway. We could check and say, well, here's where we are at two weeks for everybody, and let's do it. We're all safe, let's open up. We've had really no one not come back because of it, and we've had several people come back and help out specifically because of our requirement.

WALKER: Well, we wish you the best, Mark, and clearly you're making decisions based on what is safe, and not the bottom line. And we wish you all the luck in this. And thank you for giving the community that option to dine as safely as possible. Mark Alston, thank you so much. Best of luck to you.

ALSTON: Thank you. Yes, thanks.

WALKER: And be sure to tune in tonight when CNN takes you inside the mission to give the world a shot with the new film "Race for the Vaccine". Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three out of four of the mice that were dosed with one microgram were protected against viral replication in their nasal terminus.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The lab work was led by Kizzmekia, or "Kizzy," Corbett, then just 34 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ironically enough, I was interested in coronavirus because most people were not. You want to build a niche, and so you want to tap into some uncharted territory.

GUPTA: Kizzy first came to NIH as a teenage summer intern in Barney's Lab.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I asked her, where do you envision yourself 10 or 15 years from now? She said, well, I would like to have your job. So that was unique in my years of interviewing students.

GUPTA: At the start of 2020, when she was running a tiny research team of mostly students --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the case of SARS-COV-2, this receptor is the Ace-2 receptor.

GUPTA: Kizzy could not have guessed that she would soon be leading the charge against a global pandemic.


WALKER: Wow, what an inspiring story. Be sure to watch "Race for the Vaccine" tonight 9:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.


SANCHEZ: Police say a Bengal tiger is still missing somewhere in the Houston area, and the man last seen with the big cat is now behind bars.

WALKER: Victor Hugo Cuevas was taken into custody Friday after a county judge revoked his bond on a separate unrelated murder charge from 2017. Cuevas' lawyer says his client is not the tiger's owner and returned the cat Sunday night. CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Texas this morning. So Rosa, are authorities any closer to finding where this tiger is?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amara, the Houston Police Department says that they have received hundreds of phone calls, some of them tips, some of them alleged sightings of this animal, but say that still no luck to trying to find this tiger. They do believe, however, the tiger is in Houston. Take a listen.


COMMANDER RON BORZA, HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: I believe since Monday that tiger has probably been passed around six, seven, eight times to different locations here in Houston. I don't think it's out of Houston yet. Maybe out of the county, but I don't think so. I think it's still here in Houston.


FLORES: As for the man that's linked to this missing tiger, 26-year- old Victor Hugo Cuevas, he was in court yesterday on a bond revocation hearing on a murder charge, and that hearing quickly turned into a second-by-second account, a dramatic account of what happened on Sunday in a Houston neighborhood when this tiger went missing, including testimony by the off-duty deputy that was seen in that viral video pointing a gun at the animal. This deputy says that the encounter with the tiger lasted for about 10 minutes. He said that he was trying to have the tiger focus on him so he could have more control of the situation. He says that Cuevas eventually came out of the house, pleaded with him not to kill the tiger, then said, "that's my tiger," end quote. I'll have more on that in just a moment.

Then he says that Cuevas approached the animal, grabbed it by the collar, kissed it on the forehead, went with the animal inside the house, put it in an SUV, and then drove off. Now, Cuevas' attorney says that this animal does not belong to his client. He says that on Sunday night he drove it to the rightful owner, and that the first time that he had any interaction with this animal was when he was trying to buy a dog, and the dealer introduced him to India, the tiger.

Now, of course, there's so many details about this encounter with the tiger, and of course, Boris and Amara, as you just mentioned, the judge revoked bond on this murder case, and now it's set at $300,000 bond.


And Cuevas is in jail. His attorney says it might take him a few days to try to post bond on this case now that bond has been increasing. But they say that they're working with federal authorities to find this animal, but of course the tiger is still missing.

WALKER: Bizarre.

SANCHEZ: What do you even say?


WALKER: I don't know. Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

SANCHEZ: Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

WALKER: And thank you for watching and having me. SANCHEZ: This was fun, Amara, let's do it again sometime.


SANCHEZ: There's still much more ahead in the next hours of the CNN Newsroom. Fredricka Whitfield is up next.