Biotechnology

Covid: Colorado Confirms New Virus Strain in U.S. as McConnell Loads Up Stimulus Boost Bill

Kevin Lamarque | Pool | Reuters

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The U.K. is expected to approve the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford in the next few days. If approved this week, the AstraZeneca shot would likely be rolled out next week and would be administered alongside the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been given to at least 600,000 people in the U.K. so far. To avoid a third wave of the outbreak, Britain must vaccinate two million people a week, according to a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The U.S. is recording at least 180,905 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,210 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data.

Here are some the biggest developments on Tuesday:

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 81.86 million 
  • Global deaths: At least 1.78 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 19.49 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 337,475

First stimulus payments go out Tuesday night, Mnuchin says

The initial stimulus payments for Americans included in the Covid-19 relief package passed by Congress last week will hit bank accounts as early as Tuesday evening, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Paper checks for those who need them will start being sent out Wednesday, Mnuchin said.

These payments — up to $600 for individuals, $1200 for married couples and up to $600 for each child — are the second wave of funds paid directly to Americans to help with the economic hit from the pandemic, CNBC's Amanda Macias reports.

The House passed a bill to increase the direct payments to $2,000 for each individual, but the Senate has yet to take a vote on it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill Tuesday that would address the direct payment boost, but also included items on Section 230 legal liability protections for internet platforms and the creation of a commission to study election issues. Those additions to the bill will likely not have support from Democrats.

Chris Eudaily

California extends stay-at-home order for two regions as ICU capacity remains under pressure

California will extend its stay-at-home order for the Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions, where capacity in intensive-care units remains strained, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said.

The regional order, which Gov. Gavin Newsom first announced on Dec. 3 and was set to expire Monday, splits the state into five regions. The order requires most businesses except critical infrastructure and retail operations to close, and it bans private gatherings of any size, according to the state's website.

Restrictions in those two regions, which encompass the southern and central parts of California, will remain in effect until projections from the state show ICU capacity above or equal to 15%, Ghaly said. He added that projections will be calculated and updated daily moving forward.

"We essentially are projecting that the ICU capacity is not improving in Southern California and San Joaquin Valley, and that demand will continue to exceed capacity," Ghaly said during a press briefing.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Biden slams Trump’s vaccine effort

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on the U.S. response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, December 29, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on the U.S. response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, December 29, 2020.

President-elect Joe Biden criticized the Trump administration's effort to distribute and administer Covid vaccine shots, saying that the administration has failed to meet its own goals.

"The Trump administration's plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind, far behind," he said at a news briefing. "As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should."

He also reiterated his administration's pledge to have administered 100 million doses of vaccine by his 100th day in office. To meet that goal, he said, it "would take ramping up five to six times the current pace to 1 million shots a day."

—Will Feuer

Moderna to vaccinate its workers, board members

Biotech firm Moderna is making its Covid-19 vaccine available to all of its "workers, contractors and board members in the U.S."

"The program will extend to adult household members of our team to reduce the risk of absenteeism and disruption due to a COVID-19 infection in an adult household member," Moderna said in a statement. "All costs for the program are being paid for by Moderna, including the supply of vaccine and its administration."

The company noted that the doses used to vaccinate workers is separate from the supply of doses purchased by the U.S.

"For transparency, the Company notified appropriate health authorities about the program in advance and is participating in all relevant monitoring and reporting obligations under the Emergency Use Authorization," Moderna said.

—Will Feuer

Trump attempts to link stimulus checks, defense spending to a contentious protection for tech

President Donald Trump is seen tapping the screen on a mobile phone at the approximate time a tweet was released from his Twitter account, during a roundtable discussion on the reopening of small businesses in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 18, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters
President Donald Trump is seen tapping the screen on a mobile phone at the approximate time a tweet was released from his Twitter account, during a roundtable discussion on the reopening of small businesses in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 18, 2020.

President Donald Trump has complicated the passage of two important measures in the final days of 2020 by attempting to link them to a contentious protection for the tech industry.

The law at the center of the discussion, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, is not related to the $740 billion defense spending bill or push to increase direct stimulus payments to Americans from $600 to $2,000. But the statue has drawn ire from Trump throughout his presidency and particularly this year after Twitter fact-checked his tweets.

The 1990s-era law protects online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google's YouTubefrom being held liable for their users' posts. It also allows them to moderate posts on their sites if they wish, without the risk of legal retribution.

Both Democrats and Republicans have sought to reform the law over the past legislative session, believing the power of the industry's top players has outgrown the decades-old statute. But most have stopped short of calling for its repeal.

Lauren Feiner

Colorado confirms first case of the new Covid strain discovered in U.S.

Colorado health officials said the first case of a new and potentially more infectious strain of Covid-19 has been confirmed in the United States, CNBC's Amanda Macias reports.

The individual is a male in his 20s who is currently in isolation in Elbert County and has no travel history. Colorado State Laboratory confirmed and notified the Center for Disease Control of the case.

"There is a lot we don't know about this new Covid-19 variant, but scientists in the United Kingdom are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious. The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will closely monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely. We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels," Colorado Governor Jared Polis said.

—Melodie Warner 

Covid caused lowest box office haul in decades

Ticket sales crumpled 80% to $2.28 billion, a far cry from the second-best box office haul ever of $11.4 billion in 2019, according to data from Comscore.

"To say that this was a challenging year for movie theaters is an understatement," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

In March 2019, the domestic box office scored $967 million in sales. However, with theaters suddenly shuttering, the March 2020 box office slumped 73% to just $258 million.

Even after cinemas were permitted to reopen, the domestic box office has not topped $100 million in sales in any month since March.

The hope for these businesses is that enough people will get vaccinated by mid-2021 that cinemas will be able to reopen to full capacity and moviegoers will once again feel comfortable returning to see big blockbusters.

In March 2019, the domestic box office scored $967 million in sales. However, with theaters suddenly shuttering, the March 2020 box office slumped 73% to just $258 million.

—Sarah Whitten

U.S. likely to fall short of goal to vaccinate 20 million people by year end

A nurse prepares a syringe with the Moderna vaccine at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) in Boston, Massachusetts on December 24, 2020.
Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Images
A nurse prepares a syringe with the Moderna vaccine at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) in Boston, Massachusetts on December 24, 2020.

With the start of the new year only days away, the U.S. is likely to fall short of its goal to vaccinate 20 million people against the disease by the end of 2020.

As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said just over 11.4 million doses had been distributed since Dec. 13, but only about 2.1 million had been administered. The CDC said part of the problem is a lag in data reporting, while other issues lie with how jurisdictions are managing their allocations.

The launch of the federal government's partnership with major pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens, which will be tasked with vaccinating long-term care residents, is still pending, the CDC said. Even if there's undercounting, the United States is still "below where we want to be," White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN's "New Day" on Tuesday.

"I believe that as we get into January, we are going to see an increase in the momentum," Fauci said, adding that he hopes that momentum will be enough to "catch up to the projected pace that we had spoken about a month or two ago."

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

American Airlines president optimistic that rehired workers will be back permanently

American Airlines president Robert Isom struck an upbeat tone about the future of more than 17,000 furloughed employees the company started calling back last week, despite weak air travel demand.

"We're really hopeful all team members will be back for good," Isom told CNBC ahead of the airline's first 737 Max flight in nearly two years.

A condition of receiving $15 billion in additional federal aid that was set aside for struggling airlines in the latest coronavirus bill is hiring back furloughed employees and keeping all staff on payroll through March 31.

Isom's tone was in stark contrast to the CEO and president of United Airlines, who said last week that the roughly 13,000 furloughed workers its recalling would only be back "temporarily" because of dismal demand in the pandemic.

—Leslie Josephs

McConnell blocks bid to unanimously pass higher stimulus checks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a bid to unanimously pass $2,000 stimulus checks through the chamber. It would have been the quickest path to the higher amounts, which have already garnered support from the Democrat-led House and President Donald Trump, CNBC's Jacob Pramuk reports.

After McConnell blocked the push for a vote by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Trump once again tweeted his support for the boost in payments.

"Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH!," he said.

Senate Democrats are likely to continue their push for the higher payments, potentially delaying a vote to override Trump's veto of a key defense funding bill until a decision on the additional direct payments has been made.

—Sara Salinas

Boston Marathon delays setting new date until early 2021 as cases surge

Boston Marathon organizers announced in a tweet they won't be able to set a new date for the annual race until early 2021 as Covid-19 cases accelerate in Massachusetts.

In late October, the Boston Athletic Association said the 125th Boston Marathon wouldn't occur on its traditional date in April and would instead be postponed to the fall. The association said it would try to set a new date for the race before the end of 2020.

"The B.A.A. will continue to work with city and state officials in preparation for a safe return to in-person racing in the fall," the organizers said in a tweet.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receives Moderna vaccine

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at United Medical Center in Washington, December 29, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters
U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at United Medical Center in Washington, December 29, 2020.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine at United Medical Center in Washington D.C. 

"That was easy," Harris said as she received the injection from Patricia Cummings, a clinical nurse manager at the hospital.

"I want to encourage everyone to get the vaccine," Harris said. "Literally, this is about saving lives... I trust the scientists."

Harris is the latest among a list of government officials and politicians who received the Covid vaccine publicly in a bid to boost confidence among the general public.

—Will Feuer

Pandemic may permanently change what Americans cook and crave

From making more home-cooked meals to trying adventurous flavors, the pandemic has changed what Americans cook and crave. And food industry experts, grocers and consumer packaged goods companies are betting the global health crisis has permanently expanded people's palates and shaken up how they eat.

Among the changes, people are making more meals, adding new dishes or spices to their repertoire and seeking foods or beverages associated with health and wellness. That's already influencing product development.

PepsiCo, for one, decided to sell top flavors from around the globe in potato chip form in the U.S., such as Brazilian Picanha and Chinese Szechuan Chicken. It's developed two new beverages with health in mind: Driftwell, a drink that's intended to help consumers relax and fall asleep, and Propel Immune Support.

—Melissa Repko

EU to buy another 100 million Pfizer vaccine doses

The European Union has agreed to buy an additional 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine, the head of the European Commission announced.

The additional purchase will make for a total of 300 million doses for the 27-nation bloc.

—Sara Salinas

EU asked to OK a sixth dose from Pfizer vaccine vials

The European Union has been asked to approve an extra dose of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer taken from each vial, Reuters reports. The practice is allowed elsewhere and would make scarce supplies go further.

Experts and developer BioNTech say it's possible, with the right equipment, to extract six doses of the drug from each vial. Only 5 doses are guaranteed, so that's what the European Medicines Agency authorized, according to the Reuters report.

The long-awaited European vaccine rollout began over the weekend, though nations are struggling with limited supplies amid rising infections.

—Sara Salinas

Covid is making it harder to get into elite colleges

Pedestrians walk through Harvard Yard on the closed Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., on Monday, April 20, 2020.
Adam Glanzam | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Pedestrians walk through Harvard Yard on the closed Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., on Monday, April 20, 2020.

With early admissions largely decided, high school seniors face a grim reality: Covid-19 is making it harder to get into the nation's most elite schools.  

The number of gap year students originally from the Class of 2024 already accounted for as much as a quarter of next year's freshman class.

These colleges, for the first time, also didn't require certain SAT or ACT scores in order to apply, which drove a surge in applications for fewer spots, according to Christopher Rim, the CEO and founder of Command Education. 

Yet, the data from the Ivy League doesn't show the whole picture, according to Angel Perez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Many would-be undergraduates decided to postpone college in the face of more pressing financial concerns including food insecurity and family job losses.  

According to the Common App, the number of students filing out applications for undergraduate admission fell for the first time this fall — even as international applicant volume rose.

In the coming year, "we could see another wave of students not attending college," Perez said. "We are very concerned that we are going to miss out on a generation of college students."

—Jessica Dickler

How Olive Garden responded to loss of dine-in experience

Olive Garden responded to a 19% decline in fiscal second-quarter same-store sales by trimming its menu, pivoting to takeout and cutting costs. CNBC's Shawn Baldwin explores if those changes are enough for Olive Garden to regain its momentum and offset the overall decline of the dine-in restaurant experience.

—Melodie Warner 

Dow opens more than 100 points higher on optimism for more stimulus

U.S. stocks opened higher on the possibility of even more fiscal stimulus being approved by Congress, CNBC's Fred Imbert reports.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 155 points, or 0.5%. The S&P 500 advanced 0.5% and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 0.4%.

—Melodie Warner 

Germany approves GNA Biosolutions' rapid test for emergency use

German molecular diagnostics startup GNA Biosolutions said its quick Covid-19 test, which returns results in about 40 minutes, was approved for emergency use in Germany.

The GNA Octea SARS-CoV-2 test system is based on pulse controlled amplification (PCA) technology and has a detection accuracy of 96.7%, which is comparable with the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology used in molecular Covid-19 testing, the company said in a statement.

Unlike PCR tests, GNA's test comes with a portable analyzer and provides results for up to eight tests within 40 minutes.

—Melodie Warner 

U.S. could be missing the new Covid variant due to testing constraints

The new, highly transmissible coronavirus strain, which first emerged in the U.K., could be circulating undetected in the U.S. because of Covid-19 testing challenges, according to one expert.

"To find that strain, what we need to do is to take a percentage of the samples that are diagnosed and do deep genetic analysis, and (in) the U.S., our capacity hasn't been spectacular," Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, the medical director of the Special Pathogens Unit at Boston Medical Center, told "The News with Shepard Smith" on Monday.

"If the strain is here, we might just be missing it because the holes in our net are too wide," Bhadelia said.

CNBC's Emily DeCiccio reports the U.S. has only sequenced about 51,000 infections of the 17 million total cases in the country, while the U.K. has completed 125,000 sequences so far — the most of any nation, according to the CDC.

—Melodie Warner 

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

Covid updates: House fast-tracks passage of larger stimulus checks; TSA screens record passengers

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