Latest news on the Covid-19 pandemic

Virologist says reopening indoor dining is “reckless” as new, more transmissible coronavirus strains spread in the U.S.

As more infectious strains of the coronavirus spread in the U.S., the decision to reopen indoor dining is “extraordinarily reckless and premature,” virologist Angela Rasmussen told CNBC.

Indoor dining resumed at a limited capacity on Friday in New York and Portland, Oregon.

“We don’t need to create new opportunities for the virus to spread among strangers who are not in each other’s household groups,” said Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security.

New, more contagious coronavirus strains originating in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil have been identified in the U.S. Indoor dining increases an individual’s risk of coronavirus infection, according to the CDC.

Until vaccination has increased, individuals should continue to practice non-pharmaceutical interventions such as masking and social distancing, Rasmussen said.

Hannah Miao

California will open up vaccinations to people with disabilities and underlying health conditions

Registered Nurse Emily Enos loads the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine into a syringe ahead of distribution to seniors above the age of 65 who are experiencing homelessness at the Los Angeles Mission, in the Skid Row area of Downtown Los Angeles, California on February 10, 2021, as the fight against the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

California officials announced that those between the ages of 16 and 64 with any kind of disabilities or at the highest risk for morbidity or mortality from the coronavirus will be eligible for vaccines starting March 15.

Underlying health conditions mentioned by health officials on the list include: cancer, chronic kidney disease (stage four or above), chronic pulmonary disease (oxygen dependent), Down syndrome, immunocompromised immune system (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies (excludes hypertension), severe obesity and Type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Anyone 16 or over suffering from a “developmental or other severe high-risk disability” which leaves them susceptible to serious illness from coronavirus will also be eligible, “or if acquiring coronavirus will limit the person’s ability to receiving ongoing care or services,” or if “providing adequate and timely covid care will by particularly challenging as a result of the individual’s disability.”

So far, 5 million vaccine doses have been administered across California.

Riya Bhattacharjee

White House says not planning to require Covid tests before domestic flights

The White House says it is not planning to require that travelers show proof of a negative Covid test before domestic flights.

Airlines, labor unions and Boeing in recent weeks have balked at the possibility, which they argue would devastate already depressed travel demand, stretch testing availability in the U.S. as well as single out the industry unfairly.

On Jan. 26, the U.S. started requiring travelers show a recent negative Covid result before boarding flights to the United States from abroad, a policy airline executives say has hurt demand for some international travel. Late last month, a CDC official told reporters the Biden administration is “actively looking” at extending that to domestic flights.

“Reports that there is an intention to put in place new requirements such as testing are not accurate,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing on Friday.

CEOs from several major U.S. airlines met virtually on Friday Biden administration’s coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients.

“We had a very positive, constructive conversation focused on our shared commitment to science-based policies as we work together to end the pandemic, restore air travel and lead our nation toward recovery,” said Nick Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, the industry group that represents most large U.S. carriers, said in a statement.

Leslie Josephs

How iconic Katz’s deli is navigating Covid after outlasting the 1918 pandemic

The owner of Katz’s Delicatessen in New York told CNBC he felt the weight of the iconic eatery’s history as he’s tried steering it through the coronavirus pandemic. The deli, initially founded in 1888, also withstood the 1918 flu pandemic.

Jake Dell, a fifth-generation owner, said there’s been a bit of a “make-it-up-as-you-go” approach. But the ultimate goal, he said, is to “make the best decision we can in the moment without losing touch with the nostalgia and tradition that’s truly at the core of Katz’s.”

Previous investments in building up its own local delivery network — plus a decades-long history of shipping food across the U.S. — have been central to Katz’s success in the past 11 months, according to Dell. The business also focused on improving its website experience for visitors.

“We’ve been lucky. We haven’t actually laid anyone off during this pandemic, and I’m pretty grateful for that,” Dell said.

Kevin Stankiewicz

WHO says new Covid strains can reinfect recovered Covid patients

Initial reports from South Africa show people who have recovered from Covid-19 have been reinfected with a new, more contagious strain of the virus, World Health Organizations officials said.

While vaccination also may not completely protect individuals from infection with the new variants, it appears to reduce the severity of illness among those who do develop Covid-19, according to WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan.

Vaccination can reduce an individual’s viral load if infected, reducing the risk of spreading the virus to others, Swaminathan said.

Hannah Miao

CDC releases school reopening roadmap

Schoolchildren swab and test themselves for COVID-19 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the classroom at South Boston Catholic Academy in Boston, Massachusetts, January 28, 2021.

Allison Dinner | Reuters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday unveiled sweeping new guidance for schools to can safely reopen for in-person learning despite the spread of the coronavirus and highly contagious new variants.

The guidance advises schools to phase in their reopening plans in accordance with the severity of the outbreak in their areas. It recommends schools adopt “essential elements” in resuming in-person learning, including wearing masks, physical distancing and monitoring the level of spread in the surrounding community. 

However, the agency noted that the guidance might need to be updated as new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus spread across the U.S. 

“If we get to a point where we are beyond the red zone here, really high levels of community spread related to the variants or related to just more transmission, we may need to revisit this again,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on a conference call with reporters.

—Will Feuer

Stimulus check eligibility still hotly debated in Washington

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is seen after her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday, February 11, 2021.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

As President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief proposal is taking shape on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are still debating the specifics of direct payments to Americans, CNBC’s Lorie Konish reports.

The proposed $1,400 checks would go out to adults, children and adult dependents. Individuals who earn up to $75,000 and married couples who jointly earn up to $150,000 are set to get full payments.

Anyone with income above that threshold will see reduced payments, with the checks phasing out entirely for individuals who make $100,000 or more and couples who jointly earn $200,000 or more.

Some Republican lawmakers have called for capping the payments at lower income thresholds, while Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called the proposal to cap payments “absurd.”

Rich Mendez

Pandemic closures are still worrying business owners, with Black entrepreneurs the least optimistic

Pedestrians walk past closed shops along Lexington Avenue amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 7, 2020 in New York City.

John Lamparski | Getty Images

Recent data from the Q1 2021 CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey reveals that for business owners, the pandemic is far from over, according to reporting from CNBC’s Kate Rogers.

The survey revealed that just over half (55%) of entrepreneurs are confident that their businesses can last another year. But fears of permanent closures varied depending on the race of the business owner, with 59% of White business owners confident that their business can last for another year, compared to 55% of Hispanic business owners, and just 37% of Black business owners expressing confidence.

According to the survey, 20% of small businesses have closed and then reopened at limited capacity during the pandemic, 10% have shut down and haven’t reopened, and 4% have shut down only to reopen and shut down again. More than half of small business owners say they stayed open throughout the pandemic.

The confusion and instability has led many entrepreneurs to support President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief proposal, which looks to include aid to small businesses, according to the report.

The previous relief package was met with criticism from small business owners who alleged that the package prioritized wealthy business owners over those who may have needed the relief more.

Rich Mendez

Democrats eye unemployment benefit boost

President Joe Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing for additional unemployment benefits as part of a $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package.

The exact duration and amount of those extra benefits are unclear.

The House Ways and Means Committee advanced a measure that would extend jobless benefits to the end of August and pay an extra $400 a week. By contrast, Biden wants to offer benefits through September. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is pushing for a larger, $600-a-week supplement.

Democrats’ plans to pass the legislation with a simple majority, which they aim to do using a special budget measure, may be complicated by a $15-per-hour minimum wage provision.

Greg Iacurci

Democrats advance key pieces of $1.9 trillion relief plan

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

House Democrats have advanced major parts of their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package as they try to get it through Congress before unemployment aid programs expire next month.

Several committees have approved their portions of the proposal, which the House Budget Committee plans to combine into a massive bill as soon as next week. The House Ways and Means Committee advanced core pieces of the rescue package including $1,400 direct payments, an extension of supplemental jobless benefits and relief to households with children.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expects the House to pass the bill before the end of February. It still faces hurdles in getting through the Senate, even under the special budget reconciliation process that enables Democrats to approve it without Republican votes.

Among the potential issues, House Democrats will include a $15 per hour minimum wage in their version of the legislation. It may not comply with budget rules, however, and at least two Senate Democrats have signaled they oppose the provision.

Senate Democrats will need every member of their caucus on board to pass the bill in a chamber split 50-50 by party.

—Jacob Pramuk

CDC to unveil new school re-opening guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday is expected to unveil sweeping new guidance on how schools can safely reopen for in-person learning, despite the spread of the coronavirus and highly contagious new variants.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Donna Harris-Aikens, senior advisor for policy and planning at the Department of Education, are scheduled to host a briefing on the new guidance at 2 p.m. ET. The CDC said they will discuss “new science-based resources and tools to help schools safely reopen and stay open for in-person learning.”

President Joe Biden has made reopening the nation’s schools for in-person instruction one of his top priorities. He pledged in December to reopen the majority of the country’s schools in his first 100 days after taking office, but Biden did not define what it meant for a school to “reopen.”

In January, the president specified that the goal applied only to schools that teach students up to eighth grade. Earlier this week, the White House further clarified that schools will be considered open so long as they teach in person at least one day a week. 

—Will Feuer

Spotify is latest tech company shifting to remote work

Audio-streaming giant Spotify said its employees won’t have to come back to the office following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company is adopting a “Work from Anywhere” model, which will allow employees to choose whether they want to be in the office full time, work remotely full time or choose a hybrid model. Spotify is also allowing more flexibility around locations, so employees will be able to choose the country and city where they work, with some caveats. Spotify will provide co-working space memberships for employees who choose to work remotely but still want a dedicated workspace.

An increasing amount of companies are starting to consider remote work as a more permanent option due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Salesforce announced this week it will let employees choose whether they want to come into the office again, saying “the 9-to-5 workday is dead.”

—Jessica Bursztynsky

CDC to probe death of Nebraska man following vaccine dose

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will investigate the death of a Nebraska man who died on Jan. 17 between one and two weeks after receiving his first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The man was a long-term care facility resident in his late forties with several co-existing diseases and conditions, the department said in a press release. Local health officials listed the Covid-19 vaccine among several causes of death.

The CDC and Food and Drug Administration have received 1,170 reports of fatalities among individuals in the U.S. who received a Covid vaccine — 0.003% of vaccinated people — between Dec. 14 and Feb. 7. Over 41 million doses of Pfizer or Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines were administered across the country during this time frame, the CDC reported.

No pattern has been found in the causes of death that would suggest safety concerns with Covid vaccines, according to the CDC.

Nebraska’s chief medical officer Dr. Gary Anthone said in the statement the death is likely due to underlying factors.

“It is really important for individuals that have high-risk conditions to consult their medical provider about the best approach to getting vaccinated,” Anthone said.

Hannah Miao

Dr. Kavita Patel says precautions still needed even after being fully vaccinated

Dr. Kavita Patel told CNBC some public-health precautions will be necessary even for Americans who have been fully vaccinated against Covid.

While the vaccines have proven effective in preventing severe disease and death from Covid, the former Obama administration official said on “Squawk Box” that more information is needed around whether they reduce transmission of the virus.

She said even though she’s been fully vaccinated, she continues to wear a face mask, for example.

“As the months go on and more people in your household and potentially another household, like your parents or your grandparents are vaccinated, that could make smaller gatherings safer,” Patel said. “That is something to look forward to because we’ve been holding off now for over a year, some of us, to see older parents and relatives with high risk.”

Kevin Stankiewicz

Williams-Sonoma sales get a boost from people spending more time at home

Williams-Sonoma posted a 22% jump in third-quarter revenue as demand for all things home-related increased amid travel restrictions and more people working from home, CNBC’s Shawn Baldwin reports.

The 65-year-old retailer sells home goods, high-end cookware and furniture through its seven brands including Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma and West Elm.

—Melodie Warner

Spirit Airlines hiring flight crews for first time since pandemic’s start

Spirit Airlines is hiring again as the discount airline aims to increase flights in hopes of a travel rebound later this year.

Training for new pilots and flight attendants starts next month, Spirit said. Spirit last trained a class of new pilots in May and new flight attendants in February 2020. It ended last year with 8,756 employees, including 2,497 pilots and 4,028 flight attendants.

Other airlines are trying to shrink headcount through voluntary measures. American Airlines and United Airlines are supporting additional government payroll support for workers with a combined 27,000 employees facing furlough when the current round of aid expires on March 31.

Late Thursday, the House Financial Services Committee advanced the proposal for $14 billion in additional federal payroll support for airlines, which would be a part of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Leslie Josephs

White House Covid official to meet with airline CEOs on Friday

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden listens as Jeff Zients, named as Biden’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) czar to oversee the response to the pandemic, addresses a news conference at Biden’s transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, December 8, 2020.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The CEOs of major U.S. airlines are planning to meet virtually with the White House’s Covid response coordinator, Jeff Zients, and other administration officials to discuss travel-related issues, including plans to require Covid-19 testing ahead of domestic flights, Reuters reported, citing sources.

Southwest Airlines Co-CEO Gary Kelly and leaders of its unions urged President Joe Biden in a letter to not mandate pre-departure testing.

“Such a mandate would be counterproductive, costly, and have serious unintended consequences,” including putting jobs at risk, according to the letter, which was released on Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January said the Biden administration was “actively looking” at mandatory testing for U.S. domestic flights. On Jan. 26, the CDC began requiring testing or evidence of recovery from Covid-19 from nearly all U.S.-bound international passengers age 2 and older.

Terri Cullen

Physicians warn Covid may never go away and people need to learn to live with it

Healthcare workers wearing protective gear prepare to attend patients at the Portimao Arena sports pavilion converted in a field hospital for Covid-19 patients at Portimao, in the Algarve region, on February 9, 2021. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images)

PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA | AFP | Getty Images

A growing chorus of infectious disease experts and public health officials have warned the coronavirus will become endemic, saying people need to learn to live with the virus.

“I think if you speak with most epidemiologists and most public health workers, they would say today that they believe this disease will become endemic, at least in the short term and most likely in the long term,” said David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Heymann is the chair of the WHO’s strategic and technical advisory group for infectious hazards and led the health agency’s infectious disease unit during the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003.

His comments echo the thoughts of White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel and the World Health Organization’s Executive Director of the Health Emergencies Program Dr. Mike Ryan.

— Sam Meredith

Japan approves its first Covid vaccine, made by Pfizer, NHK TV reports

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

Sergio Perez | Reuters

Japanese health officials approved the country’s first Covid-19 vaccine, made by Pfizer, NHK national television reported, according to Reuters.

Japan has been rushing to contain a third wave of infections as it prepared to host the Olympic Games, Reuters said.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said vaccinations will begin from the middle of next week, the wire service reported, and the government hopes to secure enough doses for the whole country by mid-year.

The Tokyo Olympic Games are slated to start on July 23.

Terri Cullen

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