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Covid updates: New York arenas can reopen later this month; NJ governor quarantines after family member gets virus

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Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky told CNBC that people may need annual Covid vaccinations over the next several years as the virus mutates. Last week, J&J applied for an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its single-shot Covid-19 vaccine. Public health officials also have said Covid is likely to become an endemic disease, meaning it will always circulate but at lower levels than it does now.

Here are some of the biggest developments Wednesday:

The U.S. is recording at least 108,100 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,800 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 107.19 million
  • Global deaths: At least 2.34 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 27.26 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 470,600

Coping techniques can help people from hitting the 'pandemic wall,' former AMA president says

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Looking at the long-term mental health effects of Covid-19

Coping mechanisms can help those struggling with mental health issues during the Covid pandemic, psychiatrist Dr. Patrice Harris told CNBC's "The News with Shepard Smith."

"We are all hitting that wall, but it is time to build on our reserves," Harris, former president of the American Medical Association, said.

Harris recommended physical activity, adequate food and sleep, and establishing new routines. Lowering expectations and maintaining connections are also important in the environment of the coronavirus crisis, Harris said.

When coping techniques are not enough, Harris emphasized the importance of seeking professional help. "It's no shame in doing so," she said.

Hannah Miao

Tractor Supply will pay employees to get Covid vaccine

Tractor Supply Co.

Tractor Supply, the largest rural lifestyle retailer in the United States, said Wednesday it will give employees a one-time payment of $50 to get the coronavirus vaccine. The company said it will also give workers time off as needed if they elect to receive the vaccine.

"We have closely followed the advice of the CDC and other medical professionals to take proactive steps to protect our team and customers. As vaccines become more widely available, we hope to make it as easy as possible for those who want to be vaccinated," said Melissa Kersey, the company's chief human resources officer, said in a statement.

Other companies have taken similar steps to incentivize workers to get vaccinated. Earlier on Wednesday, Target said it will offer extra pay and free transportation for hourly workers to receive the vaccine. Kroger has also said it will give employees a one-time payment of $100 if they get the shots.

Rich Mendez

Joe Biden builds business coalition to support $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan

President Joe Biden speaks with House Democratic leaders and chairs of House committees working on coronavirus disease (COVID-19) aid legislation during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 5, 2021.
Kevin Lemarque | Reuters

Members of President Joe Biden's administration have been reaching out to executives in several industries to rally support for their $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan, according to people familiar with the matter.

In the past week, administration officials have held at least two calls with leaders from multiple business sectors, including Wall Street and tech, said these people, who declined to be named in order to speak freely.

Brian Deese, Biden's top economic advisor, participated in some of the calls, one of the people said. Most of the calls have been anchored by the Office of Public Engagement, which is run by former Rep. Cedric Richmond, another person said.

According to a White House official, who declined to be named, the administration has engaged with companies and groups including:

  • American Airlines
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • The Business Roundtable
  • Ernst & Young
  • The National Association of Manufacturers
  • General Motors
  • The Black Economic Alliance

The discussions have focused on various aspects of the plan, including its overall price tag, direct $1,400 payments to Americans and the prospect of raising the federal minimum wage, the official added. The administration has also sought feedback from executives on how they have handled the pandemic.

—Brian Schwartz

Travel industry says Covid testing for domestic flights could threaten jobs

The travel industry, already battered by the pandemic, is warning the Biden administration that Covid testing for domestic flights could cost jobs.

Executives from airlines, Boeing and related industries have stepped up calls against the potential policy, which they argue would be costly and stretch the country's testing capabilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month it is considering a requirement for negative Covid-19 tests before domestic flights, but so far the CDC hasn't taken that step.

Such a policy would "unnecessarily threaten jobs and eliminate air travel as a viable mode of domestic transportation, especially when such a federal mandate would not apply to other modes of domestic transportation or other enclosed commercial spaces," Southwest's CEO Gary Kelly wrote in a letter Tuesday to President Joe Biden.

Airlines for America, an airline trade group, as well as other industry groups and unions said similarly in a statement Tuesday. Two Boeing executives also wrote last week to the White House that "imposing such a burden on the already financially beleaguered airline industry has the potential for severe unintended consequences that will ripple across the entire economy."

The U.S. started requiring negative Covid tests to board flights to the United States from abroad late last month.

Leslie Josephs

Biden administration to build two mass vaccine sites in New York City

The federal government will partner with New York to construct two temporary mass vaccination sites in the New York City area, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. The vaccine centers — located in the Queens and Brooklyn boroughs —  are aimed at getting shots to minority communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

"These are going to be very large sites. They're complicated operations, but they're going to address a dramatic need in bringing the vaccine to the people who need the vaccine most," Cuomo said during a press briefing.

Both locations will be able to administer 3,000 shots a day, making them New York's largest vaccination centers to date, the governor said. The announcement comes as a mass vaccination site at Citi Field in Queens opened earlier on Wednesday. Another site at Yankee Stadium for residents of the Bronx opened Friday.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

New York arenas, stadiums can reopen beginning Feb. 23, Gov. Cuomo says

Large stadiums and arenas in New York, which have remained closed since March when the coronavirus first ripped through the state, will be allowed to reopen with approval from state health officials beginning Feb. 23, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

"Any large stadium or arena — hockey, basketball, football, soccer, baseball, music shows, performances — any large arena can open on Feb. 23," Cuomo said at a press briefing.

The facilities will be subject to a number of limitations. Stadiums that seat 10,000 or more people will be limited to 10% capacity, and everyone entering the buildings must present a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of the event.

There will also be mandatory assigned seating to ensure patrons are following social distancing rules, the governor said.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

WHO says they could give AstraZeneca vaccine emergency approval this month

A photo illustration of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at Copes pharmacy in Streatham on February 04, 2021 in London, England.
Dan Kitwood | Getty Images

The World Health Organization said the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine could get emergency approval from the group by the middle of this month, Reuters reports.

An expert panel at the United Nations agency recommended widespread use of the vaccine, saying benefits outweigh any risks, according to the news service.

Data from the company's U.S. vaccine trial isn't expected until March, but Alejandro Cravioto, chair of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization, said "we have thousands of people dying from the infection, in many countries of the world, daily, anything we can do to use a product that might reduce that is totally justified, even if the information... is not (as) complete as we like."

Rich Mendez

New Jersey Gov. Murphy quarantines after family member tests positive for Covid-19

Phil Murphy (D-NJ).
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy canceled in-person events and is quarantining after a family member tested positive for Covid-19, according to a statement from Communications Director Mahen Gunaratna.

Murphy was not exposed to the infected family member as a close contact, the statement said, so the quarantine measure was a precautionary step.

The governor took a Covid test result earlier Wednesday that came back negative, according to the statement.

Rich Mendez

Most older adults have not received the Covid vaccine yet

The nation's most vulnerable age group for Covid remains largely unvaccinated against the virus.

Roughly 15.2 million people age 65 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, out of an estimated 56 million in that age cohort. Although about three dozen states have added older residents to their prioritization groups following a mid-January push from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, supply remains an issue.

The effort to reach these older individuals comes as the 65-and-older crowd continues to make up the majority of Covid deaths (75%), according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

—Sarah O'Brien

Wearing two masks can block up to 96% of airborne particles, CDC study finds

A man wears a double mask as he visits Times Square in New York on December 10, 2020.
Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images

Federal health officials urged Americans to wear a mask that fits well or wear two masks to better protect themselves from airborne coronavirus particles, reports CNBC's Will Feuer.

"These variants are circulating … whatever we can do to improve the fit of a mask to make it work better, the faster we can end this pandemic," said John T. Brooks, medical officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Covid-19 response. 

CDC researchers found that one person wearing one mask can block more than 40% of particles, whereas that individual wearing two masks can block up to 82% of particles. When two people each wear two masks, about 96% of particles were blocked in total.

Americans can also boost the efficacy of a single surgical mask by knotting the ear loops and tucking in the sides close to the face to form a tighter fit to prevent any aerosols from sneaking in or out through the sides.

Rich Mendez

Biden administration partners with Texas to build three mass vaccine centers

The federal government will partner with Texas officials to build three new community vaccination centers in Dallas, Arlington and Houston, the Biden administration announced.

The centers will be operational the week of Feb. 22 and will allow providers to administer more than 10,000 Covid-19 vaccine shots per day, Jeff Zients, Biden's coronavirus leader, told reporters during a White House news briefing.

The announcement comes days after the administration said it was sending active-duty troops to California to help staff Covid-19 vaccine sites there. Biden is trying to pick up the pace of vaccinations in the U.S. after a slower-than-expected rollout under former President Donald Trump's administration.

Zients also said that he will join New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo later Wednesday in a press briefing to formally announce the development of two new Covid vaccine centers in the state to help distribute shots to underserved communities.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Nursing homes with more minority residents had more virus deaths than others, study finds

Nursing homes with more minority residents reported more than three times as many Covid deaths as those that had more White residents, a large study published Wednesday found.

The University of Chicago researchers looked at 13,312 U.S. nursing homes and analyzed Covid data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from May to December. They found that nursing homes where more than 40% of their residents were Black or Hispanic reported 3.3 times as many Covid deaths and cases as nursing homes that had more White residents.

The new study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, shows how the disproportionate toll of the Covid pandemic has played out in nursing homes, and it carries policy implications for vaccine distribution going forward.

—Will Feuer

Aldi is expanding curbside pickup to additional 500 stores during the pandemic

An Aldi logo is seen at one of their stores in Athens, Ohio.
Stephen Zenner | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

Aldi announced on Tuesday that they will open 100 new stores and expand curbside pickup to an additional 500 stores by the end of the year to help support its customers during the pandemic.

Aldi's expansion of curbside pickup will bring the service to over 1,200 stores nationwide, as a convenient way for customers across the country to shop for essential groceries during the coronavirus pandemic.

The supermarket chain will continue to offer delivery service through Instacart from most of its stores, giving consumers multiple options to safely shop for groceries.

Katie Tsai

Target offers extra pay, free rides to hourly workers to encourage getting vaccinated

Target will offer extra pay and free transportation to encourage hourly workers to get Covid vaccines.

The national retailer joins a growing list of companies that are using cash or other incentives to overcome potential barriers to getting the shots, such as vaccine hesitancy or taking time off from work. Discount grocers Aldi, Dollar General and Trader Joe's will give four hours of pay total for getting the two doses. Lidl is giving $200 to people who get the shots. Kroger said it will give a one-time payment of $100. And several other companies, including Chobani, Amtrak, Darden and McDonald's have also announced additional pay.

At Target, more than 350,000 workers across the country will qualify for up to four hours of pay. The company will also cover the cost of a Lyft ride.

Some companies are considering vaccine mandates. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said he wants to require them for the company's more than 60,000 employees and thinks other companies should do the same.

—Melissa Repko

House Democrats advance $15 minimum wage as part of Covid relief plan

Protestors call for McDonald’s Corporation to raise wages to a $15 minimum and allow unionization in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The House Education and Labor Committee advanced its piece of Democrats' $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, which includes a $15 per hour minimum wage.

The proposal would gradually hike the federal pay floor to $15 an hour by 2025. It is unclear, however, if strict rules for the budget reconciliation process — which enable Democrats to pass the plan without any Republican support — will allow the provision to go into a final bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have both said they are trying to get the chamber's parliamentarian to allow a $15 minimum wage in the legislation.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that the policy would lift 900,000 people out of poverty but at a cost of 1.4 million jobs.

Democrats aim to pass their bill before March 14, when key unemployment lifelines are set to expire.

—Jacob Pramuk

Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package has support of 63% of small business owners, survey shows

Despite two rounds of federal loan programs meant to provide relief for small business owners, many Main Street businesses are calling for more help, CNBC's David Spiegel reports.

Some 63% of small business owners back President Joe Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, according to the latest quarterly CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey. That includes 46% of Republicans expressed support for the president's first major legislative proposal.

Calls for more government relief come as small business confidence has cratered to an all-time low since the quarterly survey began in 2017. The Small Business Confidence Index fell from 48 out of a possible 100 in the fourth quarter last year to 43 this quarter. The number of small business owners who said they believe they can continue operating for more than a year also fell from 67% in the fourth quarter to 55%.

The first-quarter 2021 CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey was conducted Jan. 25-Jan. 31 using the SurveyMonkey platform and included responses from 2,111 small business owners across the country.

Terri Cullen

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on ramping up vaccine distribution

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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on ramping up Covid vaccine distribution

New Jersey has hit a coronavirus vaccine milestone. More than one million doses have been administered in the Garden State with a goal to get to 4.7 million vaccinated by the summer. Gov. Phil Murphy joined CNBC's "Squawk Box" to discuss.

World’s second-oldest person survives Covid at age 116

Sister Andre, Lucile Randon in the registry of birth, the eldest French and European citizen, prays in a wheelchair, on the eve of her 117th birthday - born on February 11, 1904.
NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP

A 116-year-old French nun — who will celebrate her 117th birthday tomorrow and is believed to be the world's second-oldest person — has survived Covid-19, the Associated Press reports.

French media reported that Lucile Randon — Sister André's birth name — tested positive for the virus in mid-January in the southern French city of Toulon, according to AP. Just three weeks later, however, she is considered recovered.

Sister André, who is blind and uses a wheelchair, did not worry for her own life after being given the diagnosis, but for the lives of others, the wire service reported.

"She didn't ask me about her health, but about her habits," David Tavella, the communications manager for the care home where the nun resides, told French newspaper Var-Matin. "For example, she wanted to know if meal or bedtime schedules would change. She showed no fear of the disease. On the other hand, she was very concerned about the other residents."

Terri Cullen

Nearly half of U.S. workers suffer from mental health issues since the pandemic hit

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Companies help employees cope with mental health issues during the pandemic

Almost half of all American workers have struggled with mental health issues since the pandemic began, CNBC's Sharon Epperson reports. The strain has had dire effects on their well-being and potentially to their employer's bottom line.

A report by insurance company The Standard found that there has been a steep jump in full-time U.S. workers dealing with mental health issues in the last 12 months. Some 46% of the more than 1,400 workers surveyed at the end of last year said they were struggling with mental health issues, compared to 39% a year earlier. More than half of those surveyed — 55% — said a mental health issue has affected them more since the pandemic began.

Yet many may not know where to turn for help, but there are places to turn.

Many employers and organizations are reaching out to address workers' mental health, including one-on-one counseling through employee assistance programs to providing access to virtual therapy and meditation apps for free.

Terri Cullen

 

South Africa will use J&J Covid vaccine to inoculate health workers

South Africa will administer Johnson & Johnson's Covid vaccine to its front-line health workers, starting next week, to study what protection it provides, particularly against the Covid variant dominant in the country, the Associated Press reported.

The one-shot vaccine hasn't yet been approved by any country, but J&J has applied for an emergency use authorization in the U.S. from the Food and Drug Administration.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa no longer plans to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because it "does not prevent mild to moderate disease" of the variant, AP reported.

South Africa had purchased 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the first million doses arrived this month, according to the wire service.

—Melodie Warner 

Coca-Cola says demand for its drinks fell amid resurgence of virus

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Coca-Cola reports earnings beat, reinstates guidance for the year

Coca-Cola's fourth-quarter revenue fell 5% to $8.6 billion as demand for its drinks waned amid the worldwide resurgence of Covid in December and January.

All four of its beverage segments reported declining unit case volume, which strips out the impact of foreign currency and pricing. So far in February, global volume has declined by mid-single digits.

Shares of the beverage giant rose 2% in premarket trading after it topped Wall Street's earnings estimates.

Amelia Lucas

Germany expected to extend lockdown into March amid worries over variants

Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to announce Germany will extend its lockdown until March 14 amid concerns over new strains of the coronavirus.

A draft document emerged early on Wednesday outlining plans between Merkel and state officials to maintain the lockdown and to urge that citizens maintain social-distancing rules, but to gradually lift some restrictions in the coming weeks.

The re-opening of schools is a priority for the German leadership, although the country's federal system means that individual states are expected to be able to decide how to do this.

The reopening of shops and hotels could begin next month in areas where the infection rate is low. Restrictions were due to end on Feb. 14.

Merkel is due to comment on the lockdown extension Wednesday afternoon.

Holly Ellyatt

Anti-vaxxers jeopardize Biden’s plans to protect U.S. against Covid

Demonstrator holding an anti-vaccine placard in east London on in central December 5, 2020.
JUSTIN TALLIS | AFP | Getty Images

As President Joe Biden works to ramp up the supply of Covid-19 vaccines in the U.S., experts warn of another big challenge for the new administration: A significant portion of the U.S. population will likely refuse to get vaccinated.

Even though clinical trial data shows Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines are safe and highly effective, just under half of adults in the U.S. surveyed in December said they were very likely to get vaccinated, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That could potentially jeopardize U.S. vaccination efforts to control the pandemic, which has overwhelmed hospitals and taken more than 466,000 American lives in about a year. Without so-called herd immunity, the virus will continue to spread from person to person and place to place for years to come, scientists have said.

"We're in a tough spot," said Daniel Salmon, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "A substantial proportion of the population thinks that Covid isn't really a big deal and it's kind of a hoax and the numbers are being, you know, overblown and doctors are making money by diagnosing Covid and calling deaths."

Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

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