Covid updates: New York lifts restrictions on fitness classes; White House to invest $10 billion in testing for schools

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A year after the spread of Covid-19 led to business shutdowns, inflation has replaced the pandemic as investors' biggest fear, according to a Bank of America survey. The rollout of Covid vaccines has prompted states to ease indoor capacity restrictions, and more people are comfortable leaving their homes. Signs of inflation were already showing up in February, and another round of stimulus checks could further boost prices. The Federal Reserve concluded its two-day policy meeting Wednesday and left interest rates unchanged.

Here are some of the biggest developments Wednesday:

The U.S. is recording at least 54,700 new Covid-19 cases and at least 1,200 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 121 million  
  • Global deaths: At least 2.67 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 29.59 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 537,747

U.S. health experts try to ease vaccine fears as AstraZeneca’s shot faces concerns

Medical experts in the U.S. are trying to ease fears that currently deployed Covid-19 vaccines may be unsafe following the decision by several European countries to suspend AstraZeneca's shot after reports of blood clots.

While AstraZeneca's vaccine hasn't been authorized for use in the U.S. just yet, White House Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anthony Fauci told lawmakers that there will likely be enough safety and efficacy data to grant the doses authorization in April.

When asked whether the vaccines' suspension overseas could stoke fear among Americans taking other shots, Fauci reiterated that the products undergo rigorous clinical trials and are reviewed by an independent safety monitoring board before they're widely distributed.

Other medical experts told CNBC that, while it's still unclear whether the vaccines caused the adverse reactions, it will likely take extensive efforts to rebuild trust in the vaccine if allowed back online. The European Medicines Agency, which evaluates drug safety for the EU and has supported the use of the vaccine, will meet on Thursday to review the safety concerns.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Tanzania's president, an ardent Covid denier, has died

Tanzanian president John Magufuli, an ardent Covid denier, has died after a two-week absence from the public eye, the Associated Press reports.

Magufuli died of heart illness, according to Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who will succeed him, the AP reports.

Magufuli denounced Covid testing, vaccinations and prevention methods, according to the report. Tanzania stopped reporting coronavirus data to the World Health Organization last May, according to the agency.

Critics claim his refusal to actively combat the virus likely brought about unnecessary deaths.

—Sara Salinas

Venture capital funding to women-led companies drops during pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic had a disproportionate impact on women-led start-ups last year, CNBC's Julia Boorstin reports.

Start-ups with all-female founders saw their share of total U.S. venture capital decline to 2.4% last year from 3.4% in 2019, according to data from Crunchbase. Meanwhile, companies led by all-male founders saw their share of venture capital increase to nearly 87% in 2020 from 85% in 2019.

Crunchbase senior data journalist Gene Teare noted the divergence could be due in part because male-founded companies tend to be older and more established. Another factor at play is the fact that just 12% of decision-makers at VC firms are women.

Fred Imbert

2,000 organizations call on Biden to extend eviction ban

Demonstrators hold signs during an eviction protest in Foley Square in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Over 2,200 organizations from around the U.S. are calling on the Biden administration to extend the national eviction moratorium that's scheduled to lapse at the end of this month.

Advocates say a wave of evictions is inevitable if protection is allowed to expire.

Around 1 in 5 renters said they were not current on their rent in January, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities. Closer to 36% of Black renters said they were behind.

"Eroding eviction protections before rental assistance reaches those most at risk and just as we are approaching a turning point in the pandemic only undermines mitigation strategies and escalates the crisis, making recovery that much more untenable," said Emily Benfer, a visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.

—Annie Nova

New York to lift restrictions on fitness classes, curfews on some businesses

New York will allow fitness classes to return at 33% capacity beginning March 22, and it will lift its 11 p.m. curfew on casinos, movie theaters, bowling alleys, billiards halls, gyms and fitness centers starting April 5, according to a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.

Fitness classes will have to be scheduled ahead of time to allow for proper disinfection and will be subject to a local health department inspection, the statement said. The 11 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants will also remain in effect.

The state will eliminate all remaining "cluster zones" that have been subject to more stringent rules as of March 22, the statement said. The remaining zones, which were mostly in the New York City-area, were limited to smaller gathering sizes, though businesses were still allowed to open.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

After seeing trash pile up, pandemic could spark greener alternatives

When the pandemic struck last March, many grocers reversed course. Instead of asking shoppers to bring reusable bags to the store, they requested that customers leave them at home.

Covid-19 disrupted efforts by grocers and state governments to reduce use of non-recyclable plastics, from grocery bags to plastic forks. It inspired behavior changes that fueled greater consumption of packaging as more people shopped online, bought disposable protective gear like masks and gloves and gravitated toward bagged or wrapped produce and other grocery items at the store.

Now, some sustainability advocates hope the global health crisis will accelerate companies' search for greener alternatives and open consumers' eyes to the trash piling up in their homes.

"For many of us, the pandemic has changed our relationship with single-use plastic in uncomfortable ways," said John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA, an environmental nonprofit organization. "The new types of useless plastic packaging piling up in our homes and filling our trash cans are leading many people — including policymakers and corporate executives — to think more about reuse."

—Melissa Repko and Emma Newburger

The IRS plans to push back the tax filing deadline one month

The Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department are planning to extend the tax filing season by about one month to May 17 from April 15.

The decision to move the deadline comes after growing calls for the IRS and Treasury to extend the already short filing season after the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which made changes that impacted taxes during the middle of filing season and tasked the IRS with sending out another round of economic impact payments.

—Carmen Reinicke

Correction: The IRS plans to push the tax filing deadline to May 17. An earlier version of this entry misstated the date.

White House unveils $10 billion school testing plan

The Biden administration announced it's investing $10 billion from the recently passed stimulus package into Covid-19 testing for schools in an effort to hasten the return to in-person learning across the country.

The funding will be used to not only diagnose people who have symptoms, the Department of Health and Human Services said, but also to screen for contagious people who aren't symptomatic.

President Joe Biden has made safely reopening the nation's schools for in-person learning a focus of his first 100 days in office.

The Biden administration previously announced $650 million in funding for testing in K-8 schools. The president has challenged states to vaccinate all teachers and school staff in the country by the end of March. Biden's focus on testing stands in contrast to the Trump administration, which downplayed the need to ramp up availability of testing across the country.

—Will Feuer

U.S. has distributed 90 million stimulus checks valued at $242 billion, Treasury says

The U.S. has thus far issued 90 million stimulus checks worth $242 billion as part of President Joe Biden's landmark $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief legislation, according to a report released Wednesday by multiple government agencies.

The first batch of payments were mostly sent by direct deposit and began to reach Americans' bank accounts this past weekend, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced. The Treasury said it also mailed about 150,000 physical checks worth about $442 million as part of the first wave of disbursements.

The department is rolling out the stimulus checks — officially known as Economic Impact Payments — in successive "tranches." The announcement on Wednesday detailed the first such tranche.

Thomas Franck

Fauci says U.S. could start vaccinating young children in early 2022

Schoolchildren swab and test themselves for COVID-19 to prevent the spread of the