Covid updates: U.S. boosts at-home test production; UPS, FedEx ready vaccine contingency plans

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Maryland is now the second U.S. state with a reported case of the new, highly transmissible Covid-19 variant first found in South Africa, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Saturday. Health officials have voiced concerns about the South African variant, known as B.1.351, because preliminary research suggests vaccines may be less effective on the strain. Other variants also found in the U.S. have originated from Britain and Brazil. Pfizer and Moderna have said they're working on a booster shot for their vaccines that will hold up better against the B.1.351 strain.

Here are some of the biggest developments Monday:

The U.S. is recording at least 148,400 new Covid-19 cases and at least 3,100 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 103.33 million 
  • Global deaths: At least 2.23 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 26.29 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 442,962

New Covid surge amid presence of highly transmissible variants, doctor predicts

Dr. Nahid Bhadelia on the concerning number of new Covid variants
Dr. Nahid Bhadelia on the concerning number of new Covid variants

Dr. Nahid Bhadelia warned that she anticipates another surge of Covid infections as the new variants of the virus appear across the U.S. 

"If I encounter a person who has one of these variants, I'm much more likely to catch the infection from them, and then also, in turn, I'm much more likely to transmit it, which means we might have a lot more infections," said Bhadelia during a Monday evening interview on CNBC. "And so, you might see more infections in February that then lead to more hospitalizations and deaths in March."

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Monday that the dangerous new Covid variants "remain a great concern." At least 32 states have reported cases of the new Covid Strains detected in the U.K, Brazil, and South Africa, according to the CDC. Health officials in Maryland reported the state's first case of the South African variant over the weekend, making it the third known case of the strain in the U.S.

Emily Deciccio

Otis Worldwide CEO: Elevators have less coronavirus risk than outdoor dining

Otis Worldwide CEO on coronavirus safety in elevators
Otis Worldwide CEO on coronavirus safety in elevators

A study conducted by Purdue University and commissioned by Otis Worldwide, the world's largest elevator and escalator manufacturer, found that short elevator rides have less risk for coronavirus transmission than outdoor dining.

As long as people follow other guidance, they can bring the risks down," Otis CEO Judy Marks, discussing the results, told CNBC's Jim Cramer.

"What most people don't know, Jim, is the elevator's not a closed box by design and more importantly by code."

Tyler Clifford

UPS, FedEx ready with 'contingency plans' for vaccine deliveries as storm hits NYC-area

Both FedEx and UPS are keeping a close eye on their shipments of Covid-19 vaccines to the New York City-area, and are armed with contingency plans in case they're delayed as a winter storm dumps heavy snow in the region, the companies said.

UPS is using its package-tracking system to monitor the temperature and location of the vials, spokesperson Matthew O'Connor said. The company is utilizing its "healthcare command center," which tracks the movement of each package to its destination and "can step in with contingency plans should it appear that a package may be delayed," he said.

FedEx spokesperson Shannon Davis told CNBC the company is also using its own monitoring technology to track the doses through its Express network, which is charged with delivering the vaccines.

"This, and the strength and flexibility of the FedEx Express air and ground network, allows us to quickly implement contingency plans to help mitigate any potential delays," Davis said. — Noah Higgins-Dunn

14% of patients hospitalized with severe Covid-19 developed diabetes, study finds

Covid-19 often targets the lungs with many patients report difficulty breathing, but scientists are now tracking the link between Covid and diabetes, according to The Washington Post.

A global analysis published in November in the Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism journal found about 14% of people hospitalized with severe cases of Covid-19 developed diabetes, according to the publication.

The link between viral infections and diabetes has been observed in past outbreaks of other coronaviruses, including SARS, The Post said.

Chris Eudaily

The Atlantic is winding down its COVID Tracking Project

The COVID Tracking Project, a widely referenced and independent source of U.S. Covid-19 data, said Monday that it will close down next month, adding that the federal government is now "able and willing" to provide the best available data on the pandemic.

The project, which was established on March 7 by journalists at The Atlantic magazine, was among the first to source data directly from states and jurisdictions on U.S. coronavirus cases, tests and hospitalizations. Its data has been used by local and national news media, cited by lawmakers questioning federal officials and referenced in proposed legislation.

The project will stop updating its data on March 7, one year from its inception.

Erin Kissane and Alexis Madrigal, co-founders of the project, said Monday in a blog post that the work of collecting and analyzing the data "is properly the work of federal public health agencies." The two said they have confidence that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services will continue to provide more complete data.

"Although substantial gaps and complexities remain, we have seen persuasive evidence that the CDC and HHS are now both able and willing to take on the country's massive deficits in public health data infrastructure, and to offer the best available data and science communication in the interim," they said.

That stands in stark contrast, they said, to the "patchy and often ill-defined data" published by the Trump administration at the beginning of the pandemic.

—Will Feuer

Nearly 6 million people in the U.S. are fully inoculated against Covid

Nearly 6 million people in the U.S. are fully inoculated against Covid-19, according to the latest vaccine data from the CDC.

More than 5.9 million people have received their second of two shots, an increase of almost 300,000 from the previous day's data.

In total, more than 26 million people have received at least their first Covid vaccine shot, with more than 32 million doses administered to date. That's almost two-thirds of the nearly 50 million doses distributed to states so far.

—Sara Salinas

Apple will soon let you unlock your iPhone if you're wearing a mask, so long as you're also wearing an Apple Watch

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask uses her mobile phone while walking past an Apple iPhone advertisement at Orchard Road in Singapore.
Wei Leng Tay | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple is testing a new feature that will let you unlock your iPhone if you're wearing a mask for Covid safety while also wearing an Apple Watch. The company is beta testing the software now and it should be out sometime around the spring.

Right now, you need to enter in a passcode or remove your mask to unlock iPhones with facial recognition. The feature is similar to one that's already available on Mac computers, which can be unlocked if you're wearing an Apple Watch nearby.

—Todd Haselton

CDC finds first vaccine recipients in the U.S. were mostly older, White and female

Most of the nearly 13 million people given at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine within the first month of the drugs' distribution were women, age 50 or older and likely non-Hispanic and White, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

The CDC was able to collect data on gender and age for nearly all earliest recipients, according to the study. The CDC found that 63% of those people were women and 55% were 50 or older. The federal health agency said the vaccine demographics likely reflect that of the top-priority health-care workers and long-term care residents.

Data on race was harder to come by, the agency said. Just over half of the cases were identified by race. Of the cases that were reported, the agency found that roughly 60% of people were non-Hispanic White, 11.5% were Hispanic or Latino, 5.4% were Black, 6% were Asian, and 2% were American Indian or Alaskan Native. Less than 1% were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

"More complete reporting of race and ethnicity data at the provider and jurisdictional levels is critical to ensure rapid detection of and response to potential disparities in COVID-19 vaccination," researchers said.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Why a reckoning may be ahead for ghost kitchens and virtual restaurant brands

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the consumer shift to food delivery and fueled a number of other trends built on the popularity of DoorDash, UberEats and other apps.

Restaurants have turned to ghost kitchens to prepare their food for delivery without the hassle of cooking for dine-in customers. Some establishments have also created delivery-only brands, known as virtual brands, to sell food that performs well on delivery apps under a completely different name.

But the market for virtual brands or ghost kitchen companies is growing saturated, particularly as delivery sales are expected to stabilize as the crisis abates. And restaurant operators are concerned about the long-term viability of ghost kitchens, which can be expensive to operate.

—Amelia Lucas

Three U.S. meatpacking companies are under investigation for Covid-19 violations

A Tyson Foods employee puts on a second protective mask outside of the company's meat processing plant, which has been hit by a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Waterloo, Iowa, U.S.

Three major U.S. meatpacking companies — Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA — are under investigation by a congressional panel after reports of hundreds of worker deaths due to Covid-19, Reuters reports.

The House of Representatives' coronavirus subcommittee requested documentation from the firms around their respective Covid-19 precautions, according to the report.

The meatpacking industry has struggled to keep its workers safe during the pandemic, resulting in factory closures and higher consumer prices. All three companies have agreed to cooperate in the congressional investigation, according to Reuters.

—Katie Tsai

Biden official says some doctors are holding back vaccine doses

Some health-care providers have been regularly holding back Covid-19 vaccine doses to ensure there will be supply when people come back to get their second shots, Andy Slavitt, an official on President Joe Biden's coronavirus response team, said.

Slavitt added that is causing health-care providers to cancel appointments and preventing some Americans from getting their first shots.

"We completely understand that this has been a direct result of the lack of predictability many states and providers have had regarding how many doses that they would receive," he told reporters during a coronavirus briefing. "We want to be clear that we understand why health-care providers have done that, but that it does not need to happen, and should not happen."

Biden is trying to pick up the pace of vaccinations in the U.S. after a slower-than-expected rollout under The Trump administration. The Biden administration has told states that they no longer need to hold back doses reserved for the second round of shots of Pfizer's and Moderna's two-dose vaccines, adding there will be an adequate supply.

Still, some states have expressed concerns that the federal government will be able to maintain an adequate supply as providers vaccinate roughly 1 million people per day.

Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

South Africa receives its first coronavirus vaccine doses

The first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines arrived in South Africa on Monday, The Associated Press reported, as the African nation grapples with a more contagious virus variant.

The 1 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses were greeted at Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. The South African government plans to inoculate two-thirds of its population by year-end, or roughly 40 million people.

With at least 1.45 million cases confirmed, South Africa is the country with the highest number of coronavirus infections on the continent, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Fred Imbert

U.S. international Covid testing rules shift demand back to domestic travel

Air travel demand shifted from international flights to domestic trips after the U.S. government started requiring negative Covid tests for inbound travelers, JetBlue Airways CEO told CNBC.

Executives at other airlines including United and American have said the new requirements have hurt demand for some short-haul international routes, particularly Mexico, which hasn't mandated tests or quarantines for inbound travelers like some destinations.

The Biden administration said last week that it's "actively looking" at whether to mandate tests for domestic flights, a measure airlines strongly oppose.

Labor unions last week urged lawmakers for a third round of federal payroll support with demand recovery still not in sight. When asked whether airlines should get a third aid package, JetBlue's Hayes said it is "right and natural" that aid should be targeted to the travel and hospitality sector because of the outsized impact of Covid-19 on those businesses.

Leslie Josephs

U.S. awards $230 million to Ellume for at-home tests

The Biden administration has awarded $230 million to Australia-based Ellume to ramp up production of their over-the-counter at-home Covid-19 test, President Joe Biden's coronavirus response team announced Monday.

The Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services jointly awarded the $231.8 million, Ellume said in a release. The Food and Drug Administration granted the company an emergency use authorization for the test in December, making it the first at-home test that does not require a prescription for use in the U.S.

Andy Slavitt, a member of Biden's Covid-19 response team, said the company can provide 100,000 tests per month to the U.S. from February to July, adding that "that's good, but it's obviously not where we'll need to be." The award will help the company establish a U.S. manufacturing plant and ramp up production to 19 million test kits per month by the end of year, 8.5 million of which will go to U.S., the company said.

"We want to help the U.S. reopen as safely and as quickly as possible," Ellume founder and CEO Dr. Sean Parsons said in a statement. "We are prioritizing our partnership with the U.S. government to mobilize tests quickly and in the most impactful way."

—Will Feuer

Government predicts economic growth will recover 'rapidly,' forecasts quicker jobs market revival

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Monday issued an improved economic outlook and said the labor market will return to full strength quicker than expected thanks to the vaccine rollout and a barrage of legislation enacted in 2020.

Gross domestic product, or GDP, is expected to reach its previous peak in mid-2021 and the labor force is forecast to return to its pre-pandemic level in 2022, according to the office.

The forecasters see the jobless rate falling to 5.3% this year and further to 4% between 2024 and 2025.

Thomas Franck

Sales of fake negative Covid tests rising in response to travel restrictions

A technician takes a swab for a COVID-19 test on October 13, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium.
Thierry Monasse | Getty Images

Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency, says that sales of fraudulent negative Covid test certificates are becoming more widespread as countries tighten travel restrictions CNBC's Holly Ellyatt reports.

As more countries require negative Covid test results when traveling from high-risk areas, scammers have been helping travelers bypass restrictions for months.

Criminals selling fraudulent negative Covid test certifications have been caught in the U.K., France, Spain and the Netherlands.

Rich Mendez

Kids could see lost earnings during their careers due to lockdown, British study predicts

Children in the U.K. could lose £40,000 ($54,897) in earnings over their lifetime as a result of missing half a year in school due to coronavirus lockdowns, a study by British research body the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found.

IFS Research Fellow Luke Sibieta, who authored the report, cited research that found on average a year of schooling increased a person's earnings by 8% per year, across advanced and high-income countries.

Based on someone earning £1 million over their lifetime, Sibieta said that losing at least half a year of face-to-face learning could therefore work out to a £40,000 loss in earnings over the course of their career.

This equated to a total £350 billion in lost lifetime earnings across the 8.7 million school children in the U.K., he said. This loss of learning time would also not affect all children equally, he said, with remote learning having been harder for younger kids and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Vicky McKeever

Republican senators call for compromise with a smaller Covid relief proposal

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, left, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, depart from a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in his office in Washington on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.
Caroline Brehman | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

A group of 10 Republican senators has called for President Joe Biden to compromise on his $1.9 trillion Covid relief package and consider their smaller proposal, CNBC's Amanda Macias reports.

The senators say their proposal provides "more targeted assistance" for Americans most in need.

The proposal includes stimulus checks, extended federal unemployment at the current, level, full funding for nutritional assistance programs for struggling families and more.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said he believed Democrats have enough votes to pass their $1.9 trillion proposal through the reconciliation process.

Rich Mendez

Heavy snowstorm hampers vaccine distribution in northeast states

The United States' vaccine distribution plans face another obstacle as a winter storm is forecast to dump one to two feet of snow from Pennsylvania into New England through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy closed the state's six mega-vaccination sites due to the storm and said all appointments will be rescheduled within the week.

—Melodie Warner 

Covid fallout has affected women more than men, advocacy group says

Advocacy group says Covid fallout has affected women more than men
Advocacy group says Covid fallout has affected women more than men

Divya Mathew of Women Deliver says women should be part of the solutions and responses to Covid-19. She also said the pandemic could roll back successes in narrowing the economic gender divide.

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