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Covid updates: Texas governor lifts capacity limits on businesses, ends statewide mask mandate

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The United States expects to administer the first shots of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine Tuesday. The single-shot vaccine is a welcome tool as Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warns states' decisions to roll back Covid-19 restrictions could reverse the downward trajectory in U.S. infections.

Here are some of the biggest developments Tuesday:

The U.S. is recording at least 67,700 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,000 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 114.69 million  
  • Global deaths: At least 2.54 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 28.7 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 515,899

Masks are still required in Texas airports after state drops mandate

Texas is lifting its mask mandate but don't try to go without one in the airport or on a plane.

The Biden administration in January mandated that masks must be worn on airplanes, at airports and on other forms of shared transportation, adding to airlines' own rules that have required masks on board since early in the pandemic. It also applies to airline employees.

"All Southwest employees are required to wear a mask at all times while they are on the job or otherwise representing Southwest Airlines," the Dallas-based carrier said in a statement. 

Leslie Josephs

Auto workers now eligible for Covid vaccine in Detroit

Manufacturing workers in Detroit are now eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccinations without any restrictions such as age or proof of preexisting conditions.

The United Auto Workers union estimates at least 10,000 of its roughly 400,000 members work in Detroit. A total number of manufacturing workers living in the city was not immediately available.

Detroit's rollout of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be conducted at a conference center as well as major manufacturing operations beginning with two SUV plants for Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler).

Stellantis previously worked with county officials in Illinois to get workers vaccinated at a plant that produces Jeep SUVs.

Michael Wayland

Biden expects to have enough vaccines for every adult by end of May

President Joe Biden said the U.S. will have enough vaccines for every adult in the country by the end of May, with production ramping up on the three currently approved vaccines, CNBC's Kevin Breuninger reports.

Just over 26 million Americans have received 2 doses of the vaccine to this point, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 8% of the population.

Chris Eudaily

Lyft books the most rides in a single week since lockdowns began

Ride-hailing company Lyft said users booked more rides in the final week of February than any other week since Covid lockdowns began, CNBC's Deirdre Bosa and Laura Batchelor report.

The company is now expecting a faster rebound from widespread shutdowns and financial losses than it previously forecast. Lyft expects to post positive year-over-year growth in rideshare volume this month, according to an SEC filing.

The accelerated recovery likely reflects Americans' rising comfort levels with shared rides as coronavirus cases drop and state-level restrictions ease.

—Sara Salinas

NIH halts trial of plasma treatment after researchers found no benefit

Convalescent plasma from a recovered coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient is seen at the Central Seattle Donor Center of Bloodworks Northwest during the outbreak in Seattle, Washington, April 17, 2020.
Lindsey Wasson | Reuters

The NIH said it halted a trial testing convalescent plasma in patients with mild-to-moderate Covid-19 symptoms after an independent group of experts concluded it was unlikely to be beneficial.

The independent data and safety monitoring board met last month to review the data and determined that while the plasma treatment caused no harm, it was unlikely to benefit this group of patients, according to the NIH. The DSMB recommended that the NIH stop enrolling new patients into the study.

Scientists had previously said they were skeptical convalescent plasma was an effective treatment for patients with Covid, even after the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the treatment in August and former President Donald Trump touted it as a "breakthrough."

The plasma, which is taken from patients who have recovered from Covid-19 and developed antibodies against the virus, is infused in sick patients.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Sequestration may trigger an increase in student loan fees

The Office of Management and Budget says origination fees on federal student loans may be modestly increased in the 2021 fiscal year because of mandatory sequestration caused by Covid relief legislation such as the CARES Act.

Currently, federal student loan borrowers pay a 1.057% fee on Stafford loans and a 4.228% fee on PLUS loans.

Some experts predict that Democrat and Republican legislators will agree to waive the cuts and avoid fees increases.

—Abigail Johnson Hess

Texas governor lifts capacity limits on businesses, ends statewide mask mandate

Ciscos on historic East 6th Street in Austin, Texas is one of the few restaurants that chose to re-open its dining room after Governor Greg Abbott loosened restrictions put in place to respond to coronavirus (Covid-19) on May 01, 2020.
Dave Creaney | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday the state will be lifting capacity limits on businesses and ending a statewide mask mandate imposed in July amid a deadly surge in Covid cases.

Starting March 10, all businesses will be permitted to operate at 100% capacity, but those that prefer to operate at reduced density may continue do so. The governor said Texans should continue to follow medical advice.

"Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility," Abbott said, according to a report from the Associated Press. "It's just that now state mandates are no longer needed."

The announcement comes one day after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said she was concerned that rolling back restrictions could threaten the country's progress in combatting the virus.

—Sara Salinas

San Francisco to reopen movie theaters, allow indoor dining

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Tuesday the city will let movie theaters and gyms reopen at a reduced capacity within 24 hours, NBC Bay Area reported. Restaurants will also be able to reopen indoor dining services.

Specifically, indoor dining can resume at 25% capacity along with movie theaters. Gyms, meanwhile, can reopen at 10% capacity. Breed added that San Francisco's cable-car service would return later this year.

Breed's announcements came a day after she tweeted the city's infection rate was declining and that one in five residents had been vaccinated.

There have been more than 34,000 Covid-19 cases confirmed in San Francisco along with at least 422 virus-related deaths, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows.

Fred Imbert

These strategies can help owners of the smallest businesses applying for PPP loans

10'000 Hours | DigitalVision | Getty Images

Owners of the smallest businesses have just over a week to take advantage of priority access to the Paycheck Protection Program's forgivable loans.

At the same time, sole proprietors are still awaiting guidance from the Small Business Administration. The SBA expected to update its formula this week to shift eligibility calculations from net-profits based to gross-income based.

Melissa Bradley, co-founder of mentorship tech platform Ureeka, is advising entrepreneurs to be informed before they sign an application. That means reading the fine print doing research on the program.

She also advises owners to make sure their accounts are up to date and have been reviewed by an accountant. Then, think about the amount of the loan — make sure you have enough to not only survive, but thrive, Bradley said.

—Michelle Fox

Airlines are starting to position themselves for a recovery

A passenger arrives for a United Airlines flight at O'Hare International Airport on February 05, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

Airline executives say they're starting to see glimmers of a rebound in air travel demand, though it could take years for the battered industry to fully recover.

Some carriers are buying new planes, training pilots and even hiring again, decisions that generally have to be made far in advance.

The U.S. airline industry has a long way to go, it is still burning $150 million a day and it's flying at half the levels it was a year ago with about 40% of the passengers, according to industry group Airlines for America, which represents most major U.S. carriers.

But Delta and United have said they have seen an increase in bookings lately for spring break and summer travel, a promising sign as more vaccines are administered.

—Leslie Josephs

Target says social distancing may outlast the pandemic

Target is betting that shoppers' germ-phobia — or at least their desire to steer clear of strangers — may continue beyond the pandemic.

At an investor meeting, Chief Financial Officer Michael Fiddelke said the retailer plans to open 30 to 40 stores annually and remodel about 150 stores by the holiday season. He said the stores will include contactless checkout, more room for social distancing and additional curbside pickup features for those who want to retrieve online purchases without stepping inside.

Target CEO Brian Cornell credited safety as a reason why the company has attracted new shoppers and reported strong sales during the pandemic.

"That focus on safety will be with the consumer we serve for years to come, so it's a long-term commitment to making sure we create a trusted and safe shopping experience — one that's still inspirational and easy," he said on a call with reporters.

And, he added, "the plexiglass will stay up for a while."

—Melissa Repko




Initial positive effects from vaccinations have researchers optimistic about the economy

VIDEO2:1302:13
Here's what U.S. vaccination data can tell us about the economy

Economists who track data on Covid-19 virus infections say they are seeing initial signs that vaccines are having working to cut down on the number of deaths and infection rates in the U.S., CNBC's Steve Liesman reported.

Though the early signs are preliminary, they suggest the drop in the percentage of deaths from nursing home residents and infection numbers are below their model forecasts.

"We have seen for the first time that the (actual infection rates are) below our static models, suggesting potential protection from the vaccinations," Matthew Harrison, head of biotech industry research at Morgan Stanley, said in a report this week.

The early findings, ramped up vaccination rates, and the arrival of a new vaccine from Johnson & Johnson are making economists optimistic about their forecast for a strong economic rebound in the summer.

Terri Cullen

11 Democrats want Biden to tie future direct payments, jobless aid to the economy

Eleven Senate Democrats have written to President Joe Biden urging him to include recurring direct payments and boosted unemployment aid in his next major economic initiative.

The lawmakers urged Biden to put the checks and jobless benefits in his coming recovery plan and tie them to the economy so they would only phase out as the job market recovers. The senators aim to avoid another deadline like the one coming on March 14, when a $300 per week unemployment supplement and programs expanding benefits to millions of people expire.

The Senate is expected to consider another round of stimulus checks and an expansion of jobless benefits when it takes up the House-passed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan this week. The legislation calls for sending $1,400 payments to most Americans, boost the weekly jobless benefit enhancement to $400 and extend the provisions allowing millions more to receive unemployment insurance.

The support for jobless Americans would go through Aug. 29.

Senate Democrats likely will not win Republican support for more direct assistance to households, however, and could have a hard time keeping all of their own members on board.

—Jacob Pramuk

Congress investigating One Medical's vaccine allocations

Bottles for the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are ready to be prepared before the opening of a mass vaccination site in the Queens borough of New York, February 24, 2021.
Seth Wenig | Pool | Reuters

A congressional committee has opened an investigation into concierge health-care provider One Medical over reports that it gave vaccine shots to family, friends of executives and wealthy clients who weren't yet eligible in their states.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent a letter Monday to One Medical CEO Amir Dan Rubin seeking documents on their vaccine allocation practices.

The investigation was prompted by a report from NPR, which obtained internal company communications that allegedly showed One Medical was allowing its largely wealthy clientele to cut the line for Covid-19 vaccines.

—Will Feuer

Extensions should stave off a mass loss of unemployment benefits

It's been almost a year since millions of workers filed for unemployment benefits in the early days of the Covid pandemic in the U.S. — a timeline that would ordinarily trigger lower weekly benefits or an outright loss of aid.

Federal extensions being weighed in Washington should prevent this from occurring, experts say.

The dynamic is created by rules around a so-called "benefit year." States recalculate workers' weekly aid amounts and eligibility after a year has passed. Many unemployed workers would be negatively affected given the lack of employment opportunities since March 2020.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan would extend benefits through August, however, thereby preventing the negative side effects.

Greg Iacurci

One dose of Pfizer vaccine is 85% effective at preventing death in people 80 and older

Jose Luis Hermosillo, 78, is given a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Willowbrook, Los Angeles, California, February 25, 2021.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

New figures released by Public Health England show that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective in reducing Covid infections among people age 70 years and over.

For individuals 80 years or older, the data suggested that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine is 85% effective at preventing death with Covid-19.

At a press conference, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock called the findings "very strong."

Matt Clinch

How 2020 Covid-related withdrawals from retirement accounts affect your tax return

If you made an emergency withdrawal from your retirement account last year due to Covid, it's time to settle up — at least partially — with the IRS.

The CARES Act, signed into law last March, allowed individuals to withdraw up to $100,000 from their 401(k)s or other qualifying retirement accounts without paying the usual 10% tax penalty if they were under age 59½ — as long as the justification for the distribution was Covid-related.

While the law lets you spread the taxes owed on the withdrawal over three years, you need to pay at least a third of it on your 2020 tax return. There also is a form you'd need to file that certifies the reason for the distribution was due to Covid.

—Sarah O'Brien

Merck will help make Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine

A lab worker holds a vial of Johnson & Johnson's Janssen coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson via Reuters

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that pharmaceutical giant Merck will help make Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine.

Under the arrangement, Merck will dedicate two facilities in the U.S. to J&J's vaccine, according to NBC News. One facility will make the vaccine itself while the other will provide "fill-finish" services, the last stage of the production process during which the vaccine is placed in vials.

"We expect this manufacturing arrangement will enhance our production capacity so that we can supply beyond our current commitments," J&J said in a statement.

The announcement comes as the administration works to ramp up the production of J&J's single-shot vaccine. Administration officials said Sunday the U.S. government would ship J&J's entire inventory of 3.9 million doses this week, adding that supply would be "uneven" in the following weeks. Sixteen million more doses are expected by the end of the month.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Air cargo demand surpasses 2019 levels, but passengers are still staying off planes

Air cargo demand in January recovered to pre-crisis levels, topping year-earlier volumes by 1%, according to the International Air Transport Association, highlighting one of the only bright spots in aviation during the pandemic.

Global passenger demand, however, slumped in January as travel volumes eased after the year-end holidays. Domestic travel, measured in revenue-passenger kilometers, led the decline, falling 47% compared with January 2019, IATA said. Domestic travel had been stronger relative to international flight demand, which was devastated by the virus, quarantines and outright travel bans.

Leslie Josephs

How pandemic-driven demand for electronics led to chip shortage

VIDEO9:2609:26
How the global computer chip shortage happened

Semiconductors are a key component of nearly every electronic device we buy and use. And now, there aren't enough of them being made, reports CNBC's Jeff Morganteen.

Semiconductor company CEOs and analysts say the chip shortage will persist well into 2021 and President Joe Biden has ordered economic and national security experts to look for gaps in the semiconductor supply chain in the United States.

—Melodie Warner 

Germany plans to extend coronavirus lockdown

A sign that reminds clients to keep 1.5m distance in a clothes store as they open for the first time since March during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on April 22, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.
Maja Hitij | Getty Images

Germany plans to extend its coronavirus lockdown until March 28, but will allow small private gatherings from Monday, Reuters reported.

Under the draft agreement, which still has to be agreed upon on Wednesday, florists, book and gardening shops will be able to reopen and other retailers can operate in regions that meet specific infection levels, according to Reuters.

Germany will ask citizens to avoid travel over the Easter holidays, but will make exceptions for small family gatherings during the holidays, according to the draft seen by Reuters.

—Melodie Warner 

Russia's Covid vaccine is proving attractive to its allies in Eastern Europe

As the European Union struggles to ramp up its rollout of coronavirus vaccines across the 27 member bloc, Russia's Covid shot is proving alluring to its friends in Eastern Europe, creating another potential rift in the region.

The Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia have all expressed interest in procuring and deploying Russia's "Sputnik V" vaccine, a move that could undermine an EU-wide approach to approving and administering coronavirus vaccines.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Sunday that his country could use the Sputnik V vaccine even without approval by the EU's drugs agency, the European Medicines Agency.

The pivot towards Russia's vaccine comes amid widespread frustration at the slow speed of the EU's vaccination rollout. It's been hampered by the bloc's decision to purchase vaccines jointly, and its orders came later than other countries, including the U.K. and U.S.

Holly Ellyatt

Target's fourth-quarter earnings benefit from pandemic trends

A shopper wearing a face mask due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic browses toys at a Target store in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, November 20, 2020.
Mark Makela | Reuters

Target benefited from a familiar script in the fourth quarter: It attracted consumers by offering convenient and contactless ways to shop during the pandemic.

The big-box retailer exceeded Wall Street's expectations for earnings, as it got a lift from strong holiday sales. It gained momentum in January as Americans received stimulus checks. Comparable sales, a key metric that tracks sales at stores open at least 13 months and online, rose 20.5% compared with a year earlier.

Target has attracted new customers and inspired more purchases with its e-commerce offerings and wide range of merchandise, from cereal to workout pants, as competitors like Macy's and Kohl's temporarily closed stores and saw sales decline during the global health crisis. The big-box retailer said it gained about $9 billion in market share in the fiscal year, citing internal and third-party research.

Even so, the company declined to provide a forecast for the year ahead, citing uncertainty because of the pandemic.

—Melissa Repko

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