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Covid updates: New CDC chief calls for more testing; Schwarzenegger gets vaccinated

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President-elect Joe Biden was sworn into office Wednesday, ushering in a new administration and fresh coronavirus policies as the country faces nearly 3,000 virus deaths a day. Biden plans to sign 17 executive orders in the first few hours of his tenure, including orders that will launch a "100 Days Masking Challenge," will see the U.S. rejoin the World Health Organization, and will bolster key Covid-19 personnel. The Biden administration will face a tall order to slow infection rates and speed up the national vaccine rollout.

Here are some of the biggest developments Wednesday:

The U.S. is recording at least 199,700 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,960 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data.

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 96.59 million
  • Global deaths: At least 2.07 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 24.35 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 404,284

United Airlines expects dismal winter but eyes recovery by 2023

United Airlines warned investors another difficult winter is ahead with revenues set to fall as much as 70% from 2019 levels. United, like its competitors, says a recovery hinges on the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, which has so far been slow and chaotic.

But the Chicago-based carrier is plotting a recovery, partially fueled by increased cost-cutting, and it will likely surpass its 2019 EBITDA margins by 2023.

United swung to a net loss of $1.9 billion in the fourth quarter from a $641 million profit a year earlier. Fourth-quarter revenue fell 69% to $3.41 billion, below analysts' estimates of $3.44 billion.

The carrier's full-year net loss of $7.07 billion was the largest since 2005.

—Leslie Josephs

Biden's new CDC director calls to ramp up Covid testing, vaccinations

The United States needs to quickly ramp up the amount and pace of Covid-19 testing and vaccinations to bring the current outbreak under control, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in her first official statement as President Joe Biden's director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Better, healthier days lie ahead. But to get there, COVID-19 testing, surveillance, and vaccination must accelerate rapidly," Walensky said in a statement. "We must also confront the longstanding public health challenges of social and racial injustice and inequity that have demanded action for far too long."

The country will also need to "make up for potentially lost ground in areas like suicide, substance use disorder and overdose, chronic diseases, and global health initiatives," she said.

She added that officials will review all current guidance issued by the CDC under the Trump administration and will update it if needed "so that people can make decisions and take action based upon the best available evidence." She placed the CDC's principal deputy director Anne Schuchat in charge of the review process.

— Will Feuer

Amazon offers to help with Covid-19 vaccines in letter to Biden

Amazon on Wednesday offered to help with national efforts involving the Covid-19 vaccine, according to a letter sent to President Joe Biden, which was obtained by CNBC.

Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon's worldwide consumer business, said the company was prepared to offer up its operations, information technology and communications capabilities and expertise to "assist with your administration's vaccination efforts."

Amazon has reached an agreement with a third-party health care provider to administer vaccine's at the company's warehouses, Clark said. He added that Amazon's front-line workers "who cannot work from home should receive the Covid-19 vaccine at the earlier appropriate time."

Last month, Clark wrote to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel vying for warehouse workers, data center employees at Amazon Web Services and Whole Foods employees to get priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine.

— Annie Palmer

'Come with me if you want to live:' Schwarzenegger receives Covid vaccine

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger received his Covid vaccine, according to a video posted on Twitter, and encouraged others to do the same.

"I would recommend it to anyone and everyone," he said in the video.

The former governor waited in line for the shot at the Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, California, a mass vaccination site set up earlier this month.

At the end of the short video, donning his mask and with intonation that only the Terminator actor can achieve, he warns, "Come with me if you want to live."

Rich Mendez

Biden will extend pause on federal student loan debt until October

President Joe Biden on Wednesday is expected to extend the payment pause for federal student loan borrowers through September 2021.

Federal student loan debt and accruing interest was first paused in March, giving relief to more than 40 million borrowers amid the coronavirus pandemic. The pause, which has been extended multiple times, was set to expire at the end of the month.

About 90% of borrowers have taken advantage of the government's option to pause their payments during the pandemic, data shows, and 6 in 10 borrowers said it would be difficult for them to start paying their student loan bills again in the coming month. 

—Carmen Reinicke

WHO chief congratulates President Biden, Vice President Harris

The World Health Organization's top official sent his congratulations to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on their inauguration.

Under the incoming Biden administration, the United States is set to rejoin the global health agency, reversing outgoing President Donald Trump's plan to withdraw from the group.

"Here's to a healthier, fairer, safer, more sustainable world," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Starbucks helps reimagine vaccination sites to solve bottlenecks

Starbucks is helping reimagine vaccination sites as part of the Washington State Vaccine Command and Coordination Center, a group announced by Gov. Jay Inslee Monday to boost vaccinations in the state. The coffee giant has been tasked with improving the operational efficiency of vaccine distribution. 

Employees at Starbucks visited existing vaccination centers in the state to research pain points, then created a mock distribution center at its Seattle headquarters that addresses the problems.

"It's the most streamlined Starbucks we'll ever build," Jon Liechty, vice president of operations innovation at Starbucks, said describing the process of redesigning a vaccination site, in a release.

To reduce bottlenecks, members of the Starbucks team proposed that there be multiple lines for people hoping to get vaccinated: a "fast" line to register for the vaccine, and a "slow" line for people with questions.

After getting vaccinated, people are required to sit for 15 minutes and self-monitor side effects or allergic reactions — but Starbucks noticed people often linger longer than necessary in the waiting room.

To address this, patients at Starbucks' mock distribution center would receive a card with the exact time of their shot, and sit with other vaccinated people in (socially distanced) groups according to the time of vaccination so that they are dismissed together.

The Starbucks team also added signs with symbols to make instructions more accessible, and clearly displayed clocks.

Cory Stieg

Biden will extend the national ban on evictions through March 2021

New York City
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Wednesday is expected to continue the federal ban on evictions through March 2021.

The moratorium, which has protected millions of Americans struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic, was set to expire at the end of the month.

Housing advocates applauded the move, but called for the ban to be paired with enforcement to make sure landlords follow the law as well as adequate rental assistance so that an unprecedented eviction crisis in the U.S. is stopped rather than merely delayed.

–Annie Nova and Carmen Reinicke

NYC reschedules 23,000 vaccine appointments this week amid supply shortage

New York City has fewer than 90,000 first doses left and will hit zero by Friday, NBC News New York reported.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said 23,000 appointments to receive the vaccine that were scheduled for this week have had to be rescheduled due to the supply shortage. Worries about the state's access to the vaccine come as hospitalizations have surged above the 9,000 mark for the first time since May 5, according to NBC News New York.

Now, fears that more contagious strains such as the one found in the U.K. will make it even more difficult to contain the outbreak.

Terri Cullen

Fauci to lead U.S. delegation at WHO meetings as Biden plans to reverse Trump withdrawal

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attends a briefing by the White House coronavirus task force in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 19, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters

Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci will lead a U.S. delegation at the World Health Organization's annual meetings this week as President-elect Joe Biden plans to reverse outgoing President Donald Trump's plan to withdraw from the international aid group.

"Once the United States resumes its engagement with the WHO, the Biden-Harris Administration will work with the WHO and our partners to strengthen and reform the organization, support the COVID-19 health and humanitarian response, and advance global health and health security," according to statement from Biden's transition team.

Biden previously pledged to rejoin the global health agency on his first day in office if he defeated Trump, whose decision to leave the WHO as America responded to the worst Covid-19 outbreak of any country globally drew criticism from lawmakers.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

P&G raises forecast on higher demand for cleaning products

Bottles of Tide detergent, a Procter & Gamble product, are displayed for sale in a pharmacy on July 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

Procter & Gamble raised its fiscal 2021 outlook for the second consecutive quarter as the pandemic continues to fuel higher demand for its cleaning products and shaving and styling products, reports CNBC's Amelia Lucas.

The Tide owner now expects sales growth of 5% to 6% in fiscal 2021, up from its prior outlook of 3% to 4% growth. It also forecast adjusted earnings will rise 8% to 10%, up from the previous target of 5% to 8%.

P&G reported fiscal second-quarter net income of $3.85 billion, or $1.47 per share, up from $3.72 billion, or $1.41 per share, a year earlier. Net sales rose 8% to $19.75 billion, topping expectations of $19.27 billion. Organic sales, which strip out the impact of acquisitions, divestitures and foreign currency, also rose 8%.

—Melodie Warner 

UnitedHealth profit beats on lower medical costs due to deferred care

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UnitedHealth posts EPS and revenue beats for Q4

UnitedHealth topped fourth-quarter earnings estimates, Reuters reports.

The health insurer's results were helped in part by lower medical costs as more people put off elective surgeries because hospitals needed to make room for Covid-19 patients and patients were fearful of contracting the virus.

UnitedHealth said its profit was impacted by a recovery in demand for health-care services and rise in costs related to its programs to make coronavirus testing and treatment more available to its customers, according to Reuters.

Terri Cullen

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine found to be effective against variant discovered in U.K.

A healthcare worker prepares a Pfizer coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination in Los Angeles, California, January 7, 2021.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

The coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is likely to be just as effective against a rapidly spreading variant that was first discovered in the U.K., according to a study conducted by the two companies.

The variant, known as B.1.1.7, has an unusually high number of mutations and is associated with more efficient and rapid transmission. It had led to concerns about the effectiveness of Covid vaccines against it.

However, research published on preprint server bioRxiv indicated "no biologically significant difference in neutralization activity" between the laboratory tests on B.1.1.7 and the original strain of the coronavirus. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.

— Sam Meredith

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