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Covid updates: Big retailers open more stores; NY and Massachusetts reopening sports stadiums

The coverage on this live blog has ended.

More businesses are making plans to return their employees to the workplace as the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines slows the spread of the virus. Ford Motor plans to offer a new hybrid work schedule that gives workers more flexibility over when they report to the office, starting this summer. Google said it will spend more than $7 billion this year to expand offices and data centers. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said, "Coming together in person to collaborate and build community is core to Google's culture."

Here are some of the biggest developments Thursday:

The U.S. is recording at least 54,800 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 121.59 million
  • Global deaths: At least 2.68 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 29.65 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 538,799

New Jersey will hike indoor capacity for restaurants and gyms to 50%

New Jersey's indoor capacity limits for restaurants and gyms will be raised to 50% from 35% as of Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday.

"We believe we can confidently take these steps today as our COVID-19 metrics continue to trend in the right direction," Murphy said in a statement. "I am hopeful that we'll be able to take further steps in expanding capacity responsibly and incrementally guided by public health data." 

Murphy said the state's mask mandate and safety protocols will remain in effect.

Fred Imbert

These U.S. airlines carried the most passengers in 2020

U.S. and international airlines serving the United States carried 398.4 million people last year — a 62% drop from 2019 — as the coronavirus pandemic kept many travelers off airplanes, the Department of Transportation said Thursday.

Some carriers were busier than others. Southwest Airlines retained its crown as the busiest U.S. airline with 67.8 million travelers last year. However, that was a 58% drop from the nearly 162 million people that flew the Dallas-based airline in 2019.

The pandemic sidelined most international and business travelers, leaving carriers to compete for domestic vacationers.

American Airlines moved up a notch to the No. 2 spot with 65.7 million, a nearly 58% decline from last year, but enough to push Delta Air Lines down to third. The Atlanta-based carrier flew 55.1 million people in 2020, a 66% drop from 2019.

United Airlines took the No. 4 spot with 37.9 million people, followed by SkyWest with 20.3 million, Spirit Airlines with 18.3 million, JetBlue Airways with 14.3 million, Alaska Airlines with 12.2 million, Frontier with 11.2 million. Allegiant Air came in 10th with 9 million people, up from 15th place last year.

Leslie Josephs

How to cut income and get the unemployment tax break

The American Rescue Plan gave a tax break on workers' first $10,200 of unemployment benefits received last year. However, it's limited to people who had less than $150,000 of income in 2020.

Retroactive contributions to individual retirement accounts and health savings accounts may help workers get the tax break. Self-employed business owners can also depreciate the value of costly equipment bought last year more quickly.

These maneuvers can perhaps reduce one's "modified adjusted gross income" for 2020 below the $150,000 threshold.

Greg Iacurci

French prime minister announces monthlong lockdown in Paris

French Prime Minister Jean Castex imposed a four-week lockdown on Paris as the country's capital struggles with a faltering vaccine rollout and the spread of a highly contagious virus variant, Reuters reported. The lockdown will start Friday at midnight.

The country's northern Hauts-de-France and Seine et Marne regions will also be under tighter restrictions along with the southern Alpes-Maritimes zone.

Schools will stay open, but residents will not be allowed to travel elsewhere in the country without a compelling reason, the report said.

Fred Imbert

CORRECTION: This blog post has been updated to reflect that the French prime minister is Jean Castex.

Maryland will open vaccinations to residents aged 16 and older starting April 27

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press briefing that the state will open vaccinations to residents aged 16 and older starting April 27, though people in that age group with underlying health conditions will be eligible beginning March 30.

All Maryland residents aged 60 and over can get vaccinated beginning on Tuesday, he added.

Fred Imbert

U.S. to begin relaxing Covid travel restrictions in mid-May, sources say

A commercial truck exits the highway for the Bridge to Canada, in Detroit, Michigan, August 30, 2018.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters

The Biden administration is looking to ease Covid travel restrictions with Canada and Mexico in the middle of May, sources told CNBC's Kayla Tausche. An official time frame has not been formally announced.

The president will also relax Covid travel restrictions for inbound international travel from Brazil, the U.K. and Europe, two sources said.

"There is going to be a sea change in mid-May when vaccines are more widely available to everyone," said one senior administration official. 

The U.S. has seen an increase in unaccompanied minors at the southern border, and the number of adults apprehended is set to hit 20-year highs. On the northern border, Canada has requested that the U.S. keep the border closed.

Interagency groups within the Biden administration have agreed to discuss travel restrictions with the U.K., Brazil and Europe on a weekly basis as new information comes in.

Rich Mendez

People are moving from city apartments to houses in the suburbs — for their pets

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Petco CEO Ron Coughlin: Increased pet adoption in 2020 is an 'annuity' for business

With more companies offering work from home options, urbanites are realizing that they don't have to live in an apartment that doesn't allow pets, Petco CEO Ron Coughlin told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," citing a pet boom in the industry.

"There are people, millennials, who couldn't have pets in apartments, who are now buying homes. There could be a second wave of pet buying," he said.

More than 3 million new pets entered homes last year as people wanted a companion during the pandemic lockdowns, Coughlin told CNBC in January.

—Katie Tsai

Cheap rent, vacant space: Retailers seize the moment to open stores

The athletic apparel retailer Fabletics is planning to open two dozen stores in the U.S. this year, bringing its total to 74.
Source: Fabletics

For the first time in years, retailers across the country are planning to open more stores than they are closing.

From Ulta Beauty and Sephora, to Dick's Sporting GoodsFive Below and TJ Maxx, businesses are rebounding from the Covid pandemic and dusting off expansion plans that were put on hold. In the latest example, athletic apparel retailer Fabletics said Thursday that it will open two dozen stores in the United States this year. Even Toys R Us, the beloved toy chain that filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and ultimately liquidated, has a new owner that is looking to open stores ahead of the 2021 holidays.

Year-to-date, retailers in the U.S. have announced 3,199 store openings and 2,548 closures, according to a tracking by Coresight Research. The firm tracked a whopping 8,953 closures, along with just 3,298 openings, last year, as the pandemic upended the retail industry and pushed dozens of businesses into bankruptcy.

Following a tsunami of store closures in 2020, the retail real estate landscape is fraught with vacancies. Mall and shopping center owners across the country are looking for tenants to fill that space quickly. 

"There's more space available, and we're able to get better terms today than two years ago," Fabletics co-founder and CEO Adam Goldenberg said in an interview.

—Lauren Thomas

'I totally disagree with you,' Fauci tells GOP senator in fiery debate on masks

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci pushed back against Republican Sen. Rand Paul's claim that people are not at risk of contracting Covid after they have recovered or have been vaccinated.

Paul claimed Americans shouldn't have to wear masks after getting vaccinated because there is "virtually 0% chance" they are going to get Covid-19.

"Isn't it just theater?" the Kentucky junior senator asked during a hearing. "You've been vaccinated and you parade around in two masks for show. You can't get it again."

But Fauci said the emergence of new, highly contagious variants poses a threat to people who already have antibodies.

"Can I just state for the record that masks are not theater," Fauci said. "I totally disagree with you."

"In the South African study conducted by [Johnson & Johnson], they found that people who were infected with wild type and were exposed to the variant in South Africa, the 351, it was as if they had never been infected before, they had no protection," Fauci said.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Senate confirms Xavier Becerra as HHS secretary

The Senate confirmed Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services in the next phase of the Covid-19 fight.

The chamber approved his appointment to the post in a 50-49 vote. Becerra becomes the first Latino to lead HHS.

The department will play a major role in the coming months in the mammoth task of vaccinating a large enough share of the U.S. population to contain the virus and usher in wider economic reopening. Becerra will also work on the Biden administration's potential efforts to create a Medicare-like public insurance option.

Becerra has served as California's attorney general since 2017. He represented the state in the U.S. House for more than 20 years before he took over the job.

—Jacob Pramuk

Illinois to expand vaccine eligibility to all adults beginning in April

Illinois will allow all residents age 16 and older to receive a Covid-19 vaccine beginning April 12, according to a statement from Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office.

So far, Illinois has administered vaccines to more than a quarter of adults over the age of 16, including 58% of residents who are age 65 and older, according to the statement. The state is administering roughly 100,000 vaccines per day.

"With projections from the Biden Administration indicating that weekly vaccine deliveries to Illinois will surpass one million doses in April, it is fully in our power to turn the page on this dark and devastating chapter even as we race a tough clock: the new variants," Pritzker said in a statement.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

U.S. providing 4 million vaccine doses to Canada and Mexico, official says

A vial with the AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine is pictured at a hospital in Tbilisi, Georgia, March 15, 2021.
Irakli Gedenidze | Reuters

The United States is sending about 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to neighbors Canada and Mexico, an official told Reuters.

The plan is for Mexico to receive 2.5 million doses, and for Canada to receive 1.5 million. The timeline for the deal was unclear, but officials told Reuters that the vaccines would be delivered in "short order."

"This virus has no borders," the official told Reuters. "We only put the virus behind us if we're helping our global partners.

AstraZeneca, which has millions of doses in a U.S. facility and said that it plans to have 30 million jabs ready for distribution by April, has not yet been approved for use in the U.S.

Rich Mendez

Massachusetts lifts restrictions on stadiums, convention halls beginning next week

Massachusetts will allow indoor and outdoor stadiums, arenas and ballparks to reopen beginning Monday at a "strict 12% capacity limit," according to a statement from Gov. Charlie Baker's office.

The large sports and entertainment venues are required to submit plans to the state's Department of Public Health, the statement said. Massachusetts will also expand gathering limits at event venues and public settings to 100 people indoors and 150 outdoors.

Additionally, dance floors at weddings will be permitted and overnight summer camps will be allowed to operate this summer, according to the statement. Massachusetts will also turn its travel order into a travel advisory, suggesting people arriving in the state quarantine for 10 days if they have been out of the state for 24 hours or more, the statement said.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

New York to reopen outdoor sports stadiums beginning April 1, governor says

Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets stands in the on deck circle in front of cardboard fans during their Pre Season game at Citi Field on July 18, 2020 in New York City.
Al Bello | Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a press briefing that the state's outdoor sports stadiums and concert venues will be allowed to reopen at 20% capacity beginning April 1.

That includes Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, home to major league baseball's New York Mets and New York Yankees, respectively. People attending the sports stadiums will be required to present a negative Covid-19 test or proof they've been vaccinated before they're allowed to enter, Cuomo said.

"I think you're going to see the capacity increase and the testing requirements decrease as we get more evidence, but we want to start safe and smart," Cuomo said at the briefing.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

'Above the mask' makeup growing in popularity during the pandemic

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Ulta Beauty CEO on massive growth, pivoting business amid pandemic

Mascara, eyeliner and brow products — these "above the mask" makeup categories are seeing strong sales during the pandemic, Ulta CEO Mary Dillon told CNBC in a "Squawk Box" interview, remaining optimistic in the overall growth of the industry.

"We see that makeup in general is starting to come back," Dillion said. "It's just a matter of how long will it take for people to be in a situation when they're not needing to wear a mask in a more social situation."

On the other hand, products like lipstick and blush aren't as popular because of them going unseen under a protective face mask.

Other categories that are faring well are skin care, hair care, fragrance and clean beauty.

"It started with things like self-care. People had more time to learn about skin care to put a bunch of new skin-care routines into their procedure because they have more time at home," said Dillion.

Dillon will be stepping down as CEO and will be replaced by Ulta President Dave Kimbell.

—Katie Tsai

Biden will likely reach goal of 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days as early as Thursday

Tony Heaton of Falling Waters, wearing a West Virginia t-shirt with stars and stripes, receives a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine during a community vaccination event in Martinsburg, West Virginia, March 11, 2021.
Kevin Lemarque | Reuters

President Joe Biden is poised to meet his goal of delivering 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office as early as Thursday, a senior administration official told NBC News.

The president reached the goal ahead of schedule, the official said. Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Jan. 20, about 57 days ago.

Biden is scheduled to make an announcement on the "state of vaccinations" later Thursday where he may discuss the milestone.

Health experts say the president's goal of 100 million shots in 100 days was an attainable benchmark. After a slower-than-expected rollout under former President Donald Trump, the pace of vaccinations in the U.S. has rapidly increased, averaging about 2 million to 3 million shots per day.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

CORRECTION: This blog post headline has been updated to reflect that the goal of 100 shots in Biden's first 100 days is the benchmark likely to be reached Thursday.

Delta CEO flags rising jet-fuel prices as demand increases

Delta Air Lines CEO says demand is on the rise and that the carrier aims to turn a profit in the third quarter of this year.

But the business faces several challenges.

"Fuel prices are up about 30% since the start of the year and we are incurring necessary costs to build back our business," Ed Bastian said in a staff memo. "In addition, the recovery to date has been led by leisure travelers. We know that our core business customers will be slower to return, and international travel will likely be the last segment to fully recover."

Bastian and other airline chiefs this week said bookings have climbed more in March after a difficult January and February and that demand for summer travel is strengthening sending stock prices to pre-pandemic highs.

—Leslie Josephs

What you need to know about getting the Covid vaccine

A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a staff member of the Clarendon School District at Manning High School in Manning, South Carolina, on Friday, March 12, 2021.
Micah Green | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In the U.S., 22% of the population has received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Come May, all adults will be eligible to receive the vaccine.

There are three vaccines for Covid approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, from drugmakers Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Experts say you should take the vaccine that you can get.

The process of finding appointments to receive Covid vaccines varies depending upon your state. The CDC's VaccineFinder tool is a good starting point to find providers and pharmacies near you that have the vaccines. President Joe Biden announced that there will be a federally-run vaccine appointment website ready to use by May.

Common side effects to the vaccines include pain near where the vaccine was injected, redness and soreness, as well as fatigue, headache, chills, fever and nausea, which can last up to a few days.

It takes a few weeks for the body to mount an immune response after getting the vaccine. A person is considered "fully vaccinated" for Covid two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccine (such as those developed by Moderna and Pfizer) or two weeks after getting the single-dose J&J vaccine, according to the CDC.

The CDC recently said people who are fully vaccinated can visit with other people who are also fully vaccinated, as well as some unvaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or social distancing, according to the guidelines.

Cory Stieg

Irish pub owner on the restaurant industry one year after the first shutdown

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An Irish pub owner on the restaurant industry one year after the first shutdown

Lorcan Phelan, owner of the James Joyce Pub and the Irish Times Pub in Long Island, New York, joins CNBC's "Worldwide Exchange" to discuss what the past year has been like for bars and restaurants, a year after the first shutdowns happened in the state.

Lyft continues to show signs of recovery

Lyft said Thursday it's continuing to see recovery in its rideshare business and expects that to continue through the rest of the year.

The company announced that last week was its best week, in terms of rider volume, since lockdowns began last March. It also posted positive year-over-year growth in daily rideshare ride volume for the first time in a year on Wednesday.

Lyft now expects to post positive weekly rideshare growth on a year-over-year basis and every subsequent week through the end of the year (barring a significant worsening of coronavirus conditions). Additionally, starting next week, the company said it expects its rideshare ride volume to grow in excess of 100% year-over-year as it begins "to lap the significant impact of Covid-19 on our business a year ago."

Lyft's update comes about two weeks after it reported in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that improving trends will allow it to narrow losses in the current quarter by more than expected. The company said it expects to manage its adjusted EBITDA loss in the first quarter to $135 million, from the $145 million to $150 million it previously forecast.

—Jessica Bursztynsky

U.S. jobless claims total 770,000, slightly above estimate

First-time claims for unemployment benefits totaled 770,000 for the week ended March 13, compared with the 700,000 jobless claims expected by economists surveyed by Dow Jones, reports CNBC's Jeff Cox.

The unexpected jump comes as the labor market tries to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw large swaths of the economy shut down and more than 22 million Americans join the unemployment line a year ago.

—Melodie Warner 

WHO always knew vaccine distribution would be a major problem, spokesperson says

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WHO always knew vaccine distribution would be a 'major problem,' spokesperson says

Dr. Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, says the public health body always knew vaccine distribution would be a "major problem."

UK vaccination rollout progress now threatened by supply disruptions

The U.K. government's so-far successful immunization program is facing questions over whether it's about to face a shortage in the supply of coronavirus vaccines.

"We have less supply than we might have hoped for the coming weeks but we expect it to increase again later," Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC on Thursday.

"The vaccine rollout will be slightly slower than we might have hoped but not slower than the target," he said. "We have every reason to believe that supply will increase in the months of May, June and July."

A flurry of reports in the British media has said the U.K.'s rollout could hit some turbulence. It's been widely reported that delivery of millions of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot being produced by the Serum Institute of India could be held up by four weeks.

Britain is also facing possible disruptions to supply if the EU goes through with a proposal to withhold exports of vaccines made in the bloc while its own program lags. Supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, that the U.K. is also using in its vaccination program, come from Belgium.

Holly Ellyatt

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