Coronavirus updates: Global death toll climbs to 1.5 million; U.S. crosses 14 million infections

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More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus, a jarring benchmark as the country struggles to slow viral spread. The rise in Covid-19 infections and subsequent hospital stays has squeezed health care systems and strained first responders. The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, said Wednesday the next three months are likely to be "the most difficult in the public health history of this nation," with cases, hospitalizations and deaths set to climb. The U.S. is inching closer to a vaccine approval, with Pfizer and Moderna each having filed for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

Here are some of the biggest developments Thursday:

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 64.91 million 
  • Global deaths: At least 1.5 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 14.05 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 275,201

California readies for regional stay-at-home orders based on ICU capacity

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state will impose a regional stay-at-home order to help ease coronavirus patients in its intensive-care units.

The state will be split into five regions — the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, Northern California, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. If the remaining ICU capacity in a region falls below 15%, it will trigger a three-week stay-at-home order, the Democratic governor said.

The order would require bars, wineries, personal services, hair salons and barbershops to temporarily close. Personal services are businesses like nail salons, tattoo parlors and body waxing, according to the state's website. Schools that meet the state's health requirements and critical infrastructure would be allowed to remain open, and retail stores could operate at 20% capacity and restaurants would be allowed to offer take-out and delivery, he said.

None of the regions have triggered the order so far, Newsom said, though he anticipates four of the five areas to have less than 15% ICU capacity "as early as the next day or two." The Bay Area is projected to reach that milestone by mid-to-late December.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Pfizer shares fall on report it previously cut Covid vaccine rollout target

Pfizer shares fell nearly 2% at the end of the trading session after a Wall Street Journal report said the U.S. drugmaker's current vaccine rollout target is only half of what it originally, privately planned.

Pfizer has publicly said it plans to ship 50 million vaccines by the end of the year, but the Journal reports supply chain problems forced that number down from an original 100 million doses. Pfizer has also said it plans to ship up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021. 

"There are several factors which have impacted the number of doses estimated to be available in 2020," Pfizer said in a statement. "For one, scaling up a vaccine at this pace is unprecedented, and we have made significant progress as we have moved forward in the unknown."

Pfizer's vaccine uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology. It's a new approach to vaccines that uses genetic material to provoke an immune response.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Fauci walks back critical remarks of UK’s authorization of Pfizer vaccine

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's leading infectious disease expert, walked back critical comments he made about the U.K.'s authorization of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine.

Earlier in the day, Fauci said the U.K.'s review of the vaccine was done in a "much less deep" way than would have been done by the U.S. FDA.

"The U.K. has decided to do it a little bit differently, they've gone over it very quickly," the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Sky News, adding the FDA's reviews are a "very, very stringent process."

Fauci later walked those remarks back, telling BBC television that he had faith in the U.K. regulators and that his comments were really a "misunderstanding."

Pfizer had been submitting data on its vaccine on a "rolling basis" to the U.K., meaning regulators there were able to review the data in real time and do so until there was enough evidence to support a formal authorization.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Warner Bros. to release all 2021 films on HBO Max at the same time they're in theaters

Josh Brolin and Timothée Chalamet in "Dune."
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

AT&T's Warner Bros. announced Thursday that all of its 2021 films will be launched on HBO Max the same day they launch in movie theaters. It's one way Warner Bros. is adapting to the coronavirus pandemic, which has prevented people from going to movie theaters as much as they have in past years.

"We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021," Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group said.

WarnerMedia said this is currently a one-year plan.

Todd Haselton

Zscaler's surge and Splunk's plunge show how Covid is treating software

A tale of two Covid stocks: Zscaler jumped 26% on Thursday after better-than-expected earnings, while Splunk plunged 23% on disappointing results.

The vast difference in performance is indicative of how the coronavirus is accelerating growth for some cloud software companies, and making it more difficult for others to close deals.

Zscaler's security software is built for the cloud. Splunk's data analytics tools are moving there but are still largely tethered to traditional data centers.

—Ari Levy

Delaware issues stay-at-home advisory during the holidays

Delaware Gov. John Carney issued a stay-at-home advisory for the state during the holidays, discouraging residents from gathering indoors with anyone outside their immediate household from Dec. 14 through Jan. 11. The advisory does not apply to workplaces or commuting, according a release from the governor's office.

Carney also issued a broader mask mandate, requiring Delawareans to cover their faces any time they're inside with people outside their household. Masks were already required in public settings, but the new guidelines extend to private gatherings as well.

The governor recommended the state's schools pause in-person learning from Dec. 14 until Jan. 11, suggesting virtual learning instead. Health experts have repeatedly warn the winter and holiday season will be a dangerous time for viral spread.

"A vaccine is on the way but, make no mistake, we are facing the most difficult few months of this crisis," Carney said. "I know we're all tired of COVID-19 – but it's not tired of us. We're pleading with Delawareans to do the right thing. Wear a mask. It's a simple sacrifice to protect others, and to make sure that Delaware's children get an education. Do not gather with anyone outside your household. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently.  

—Sara Salinas

Anthony Fauci's first meeting with Biden's Covid transition team set for Thursday

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was set to hold his first meeting Thursday afternoon with members of President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus response "landing team," a transition official told CNBC.

"Today will be the first day where there will be substantive discussions about the transition between me and the Biden team," Fauci told CBS's Major Garrett ahead of the virtual meeting, scheduled to be held via Zoom.

"I've spoken to [incoming White House chief of staff] Ron Klain a couple of times over the past couple of weeks," said Fauci. "They have not been, shall we say, substantive about where we're going. But enough to say, you know, 'hang in there.' We're going to be doing a few things that we'll tell you about."

Thursday's meeting had previously been on hold because President Donald Trump had not greenlit the start of a formal transition process, which he finally did last week.

Christina Wilkie

Global death toll climbs to 1.5 million

El Paso County Medical Examiner's Office staff roll bodies that are in bags labeled "Covid" from refrigerated trailers into the morgue office amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in El Paso, Texas, November 23, 2020.
Ivan Pierre Aguirre | Reuters

The global death toll of the coronavirus has climbed to 1.5 million, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. More than 10,000 people die each day due to the virus, Reuters reports.

The U.S. alone has recorded 275,000 deaths, the highest in the world, followed by Brazil and India with 174,000 and 138,000 recorded deaths, respectively.

Global health officials have warned the next few months, while colder temperatures set in and before an approved vaccine can be widely distributed, will be among the most difficult of the pandemic.

—Sara Salinas

Can employers require workers to get a Covid vaccine?

While experts maintain that vaccination against the coronavirus will be key to protecting workers, some Americans remain unsure about the shot. Experts say that in many cases, employers are legally able to require that workers receive the vaccine.

"In general, yes, employers are able to mandate the vaccine when it becomes available with, of course, a bunch of caveats," says employment lawyer Lindsay Ryan, noting that accommodations can be made for people with specific medical conditions and those with sincerely held religious convictions.

"Getting back to normal, based on what we know at this moment in time, requires entire units to be vaccinated," says Dr. Howard Forman, director of Yale University's MD/MBA program. "And that's going to be difficult for employers."

—Abigail Hess

Dr. Fauci suggests avoiding travel, gatherings for upcoming holidays

Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on the Trump Administration's Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 23, 2020.
Kevin Dietsch | Pool via Reuters

Americans should avoid traveling and congregating for the remainder of the holiday season, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said, warning that the current surge of Covid-19 hospitalizations "is not fake."

"I know how difficult that is, we all have a strong degree of empathy knowing — and myself included — about wanting to be with your family, wanting to have a large Christmas dinner with family and friends over," Fauci told MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports."

"Right now that just should not be done. To the best of our capabilities we should avoid travel and avoid congregate settings," he said.

Fauci's recommendations come after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised people on Wednesday against traveling for the winter holidays.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

States, cities pay stimulus as Congress delays action

Some states and cities are issuing Covid relief to residents as negotiations on a federal stimulus package continue on Capitol Hill.

Alaska, California, Colorado, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico and New York City are among those that have paid varying levels of aid over the past two weeks.

The measures include stimulus checks, extra unemployment benefits, interest-free loans for small businesses and housing assistance.

In Washington, lawmakers are inching toward compromise. Millions of unemployed workers, renters and student borrowers will lose protections at end of the month without federal extensions.

Greg Iacurci

Bill Gates: The U.S. could be 'headed back to normal' by spring

Bill Gates expects the U.S. to be on its way back to normal by spring 2021, with promising vaccines on the horizon.

The Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist said during an interview with NBC's "TODAY" that, while the "next four or five months actually look pretty grim," advancements in vaccines and monoclonal antibody therapeutic treatments could significantly curtail the virus.

"By the spring, those numbers will be big enough that, certainly in the United States, it'll start to change for us dramatically, and we'll be headed back to normal," Gates said.

Gates' prediction matches what Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious diseases, has said about vaccination timelines. By April, Fauci said, healthy young people with no underlying conditions will be able to "walk in to a CVS or to a Walgreens and get vaccinated."

As for what to do in the interim, Gates said, "the most impactful thing" people can do is follow prevention measures, such as social distancing and wearing a mask when exposed to someone outside your household.

Cory Stieg

Southwest warns of mass layoffs to slash costs

Southwest Airlines warned more than 6,800 employees that they could be furloughed unless unions agree to concessions to get the company through the financial pain of the coronavirus pandemic. The job cuts would be the first in Southwest's nearly 50-years of flying.

The Dallas-based airline said it sent federally-mandated notices warning about layoffs to 6,828 employees, including more than 1,200 pilots, 1,500 flight attendants, 1,110 customer service staff, and more than 2,500 ramp, cargo and other operation staff.

The cuts would take effect in mid-March or April 1. Such notices usually are sent to employees 60 days before a furlough or layoff takes effect and Southwest's pilots' union dismissed the move as a pressure tactic to gain leverage in cost-cutting negotiations.

—Leslie Josephs

McConnell sees 'movement in the right direction' toward a Covid stimulus deal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he has seen "movement in the right direction" toward a coronavirus stimulus deal. Congressional leaders still have a lot of work to do to scrape together a relief package before the end of the year.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said a compromise "is within reach" after Democrats cut their demands for relief spending. He reiterated his support for a roughly $500 billion aid plan which would address small business loans, education funding and Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

Even so, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said his GOP counterpart "does not seem inclined to compromise." McConnell's plan includes a Covid-19 liability shield for businesses and universities, which Democrats oppose. It also would not reinstate a supplemental unemployment benefit or send new relief to state and local governments, provisions Democrats and some Republicans support.

About 12 million people could lose unemployment benefits after Christmas when programs put in place earlier this year expire. Protections for renters and federal student loan borrowers will also lapse at the end of December.

—Jacob Pramuk

U.S. Supreme Court sides with challenge to California's Covid religious service curbs

A person walks up the stairs of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. November 10, 2020.
Hannah McKay | Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with a California church that defied pandemic-related ban on indoor religious services and challenged the policy as unconstitutional religious discrimination, Reuters reports.

The ruling delivered a blow to Gov. Gavin Newsom's attempts to stem the surge of Covid cases in the state, according to the wire service.

The justices set aside a lower court ruling that rejected a challenge to Newsom's policy by Harvest Rock Church, which has several campuses in the state, and Harvest International Ministries, an association of churches, Reuters said. Both churches are based in Pasadena, a city in Los Angeles County.

Terri Cullen

Why the U.K. authorized Pfizer's vaccine — but not the U.S. yet

The U.K.'s authorization of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for emergency use will likely add pressure on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to quickly do the same.

The U.S. and the U.K. review vaccines differently, however. Pfizer had been submitting data on its vaccine on a "rolling basis" to the U.K., meaning regulators there were able to review the data in real-time. A rolling review is a tool that regulators use to speed up the assessment of promising drugs or vaccines.

In the U.S., the FDA will go through every aspect of the data submitted in the application, including reviewing all safety data "to make sure there are no cracks" and everything is "solid," said Dr. Paul Offit, a voting member of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, which is scheduled to review Pfizer's vaccine on Dec. 10.

 "When you talk about a 44,000-person trial, that's a lot of clinical data," he added.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Facebook to remove Covid-19 vaccine misinformation

Facebook's logo displayed on a phone screen and keyboard.
Jakub Porzycki | NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook said it will start removing misinformation about coronavirus vaccines. The move comes a day after the U.K. became the first country to approve one of the leading vaccines.

On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the social media giant would show its users "authoritative information about the vaccines," without elaborating on how it planned to distribute this information.

The company now says it will "start removing false claims about these vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts on Facebook and Instagram." It added that this could include misinformation about the "safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines."

Ryan Browne

IBM uncovers global email attack on vaccine supply chain

A dedicated Covid-19 cybersecurity task force at IBM said they uncovered an email phishing scheme targeting global coronavirus vaccine supply chains and urged cold-chain companies to remain on "high alert."

The fraudulent emails impersonated a Chinese business executive at a credible cold-chain supply company dating back to September. IBM said the attacks likely targeted organizations linked to Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, which is working to supply low- and middle-income economies with an affordable Covid-19 vaccine. 

"We are working closely with our partners on security awareness to continue to strengthen these best practices," a Gavi spokesperson told CNBC.

IBM's analysts said the attack has the "potential hallmarks of nation-state tradecraft," though it wasn't made clear which countries could be behind the emails. It also wasn't clear whether the attacks were successful, the company said.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Travel slowdown adds to Delta's cash burn

A lone passenger leaves a Delta Airlines counter after checking in for a flight at Reagan National airport as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to keep airline travel at minimal levels and the U.S. economy contracts in the first quarter at its sharpest pace since the Great Recession, in Washington, April 29, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Delta Air Lines became the latest airline to warn that the recent surge in coronavirus cases is hurting travel demand. The trend is likely to add $2 million to Delta's daily cash burn this quarter, bringing it to as much as $14 million, up from a previous forecast of between $10 million and $12 million.

Delta's CEO Ed Bastian said in an employee note that the airline is still on track to break even in the spring. Fourth-quarter revenue will come in at around 30% of last year's levels, Bastian said.

Despite a spike in Thanksgiving travel, airlines have recently said that the rise in Covid-19 infections is driving down demand.

Leslie Josephs

Bipartisan Covid stimulus bill in 'range of reason,' GOP congressman says

Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Rep. Tom Reed on relief talk progress in Congress
Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Rep. Tom Reed on relief talk progress in Congress

The leaders of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus told CNBC they believe there is momentum in Washington to pass their $908 billion coronavirus stimulus bill, following months of deadlocked negotiations between Republicans and Democrats.

"The bottom line is, this is right in the range of reason. It's not a perfect bill, but it is a compromise bill that can bring people together," Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., said on "Squawk Box."

Reed's Democratic counterpart, Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, added: "I think there's a deep recognition ... that we've got to get something done. People are really hurting. Small businesses are going out, scores of them, every single day."

Kevin Stankiewicz

Walmart gives pandemic-related bonus, extends emergency leave

A worker is seen wearing a mask while organizing merchandise at a Walmart store, in North Brunswick, New Jersey, July 20, 2020.
Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

As the U.S. hits grim milestones for Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations, Walmart is offering bonuses to hourly employees who have been on the pandemic's front lines.

It marks the fourth pandemic-related bonus to Walmart workers since the spring. Full-time employees will get $300 and part-time and temporary employees will get $150 on Dec. 24.

For grocery workers like those at Walmart, the spread of Covid-19 in small towns and cities has meant putting their own health at risk each day. It's inspired recent calls by a major grocery union to reinstate "hazard pay."

—Melissa Repko

U.S. reports record single-day death toll

The United States on Wednesday reported a record 2,800 deaths caused by Covid-19, the highest single-day death toll recorded to date, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. reported just over 2,600 deaths on April 15, the previous record, during the first phase of the Covid-19 surge this spring. Those were clustered mostly in the Northeast and a handful of other cities across the country.

Coronavirus data has become challenging to interpret following the Thanksgiving holiday, as states work to resume normal reporting schedules, so the single-day figures may be at least partially a result of delayed reporting. The trends, though, all point to an outbreak that is growing more severe by the day.

—Will Feuer