Covid Updates: Travel Industry Pushes White House on Vaccine Passports; Relief Bill Moves Forward

Paul Bersebach | MediaNews Group | Getty Images

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention administered a record number of Covid-19 vaccines over the weekend, but public health officials warned the loosening of social distancing measures could undermine the progress and lead to new outbreaks across the country. Arizona, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, California and Mississippi have all relaxed restrictions to varying degrees.

Here are some of the biggest developments Monday:

The U.S. is recording at least 59,200 new Covid-19 cases and at least 1,600 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 117 million
  • Global deaths: At least 2.59 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 29.03 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 525,673

Connecticut Governor defends easing Covid restrictions

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont stood by the state's decision to ease Covid-19 restrictions in the state as the number of new infections declines and more vaccines are distributed, CNBC's Kevin Stankiewicz reports.

"We have the vast majority of our population most at risk has now been vaccinated. That's 65 and above, and the majority of the people 55 and above," Lamont said Monday on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "That's where all the fatalities, that's where 98% of the hospitalizations were taking place, so we feel pretty confident that March 19 is a good date that we can continue reopening."

Lamont noted that half of Connecticut's residents ages 55 and up are at least partially vaccinated. State data shows Connecticut has recorded 7,725 Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began.

Fred Imbert

Make travel plans now before prices go up, Booking CEO says

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel said Monday that people should make their travel plans now before prices start rising again, CNBC's Katie Tsai reports.

"People want to travel. Everybody's just anxious to get their lives back the way it used to be. So I would say go out there, look at [prices] now, if you have to cancel, you cancel," Fogel told CNBC's "Closing Bell."

"I do see prices going up in some places and certainly we've seen some airfares going up to for the summer," Fogel added.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been especially hard on the travel industry. Last year, U.S. airlines lost more than $35 billion.

Fred Imbert

$1,400 stimulus payments are likely on their way soon

Erin Scott | Reuters

New $1,400 stimulus checks could be on their way based on the latest action on Capitol Hill.

The Senate passed its version of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes those direct payments. Now it's up to the House of Representatives and President Joe Biden to give their final approval.

Provided the terms stay the same, that will mean $1,400 per person, as well as per child or adult dependent.

Like previous checks, full payments will go to individuals with adjusted gross income up to $75,000, heads of household with up to $112,500 and married couples who file jointly with up to $150,000.

The payments will be reduced for those with incomes above those thresholds. This time, however, the payments will phase out more quickly.

The checks will be capped for individuals with $80,000 in income, heads of household with $120,000 and married couples with $160,000.

Once the $1,400 checks are authorized, the money could start arriving as soon as this month for those with direct deposit information already on file with the IRS.

Those who instead receive mailed checks or debit cards may have to wait until April or even May before they see the money.

—Lorie Konish

Melinda Gates says we could reach global herd immunity sometime in 2022

Billionaire philanthropist and former tech executive Melinda Gates told CNBC that global herd immunity against Covid-19 could be reached sometime in 2022.

Covid vaccines, particularly single-shots like Johnson & Johnson's, probably won't begin reaching developing countries "en masse" until the end of this year, said Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"So it'll be sometime in 2022 till we have full herd immunity," she told CNBC's Sara Eisen in an interview that aired Monday on "Closing Bell." "And boy, I think we're all looking forward to that. There are a lot of people that are suffering, not just in the U.S. but everywhere."

Medical experts have said it could take months or even years before nations can vaccinate enough people to achieve herd immunity. The longer it takes to get there, the more time the virus has to mutate into potentially dangerous new variants as it spreads to new hosts.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Travel industry urges Biden administration to establish vaccine passport guidelines

People wait for passengers at one of the International Arrivals halls at London Heathrow Airport in west London on February 14, 2021
JUSTIN TALLIS | AFP | Getty Images
People wait for passengers at one of the International Arrivals halls at London Heathrow Airport in west London on February 14, 2021

More than a two-dozen travel industry groups and labor unions on Monday urged the Biden administration to issue guidelines for Covid-19 vaccine passports, in hopes that a uniform system will help customers feel more comfortable booking trips again.

A host of platforms around the world are helping travelers upload test results and soon, proof of vaccinations, as part of a push toward some kind of Covid-19 health credential, or CHC.

"The current diverse and fragmented digital health credentials used to implement different countries' air travel testing requirements risk causing confusion, reducing compliance, and increasing fraud," said the travel groups in a letter Monday to Jeff Zients, the White House's Covid-19 recovery team coordinator.

International air travel remains extremely depressed because of entry bans and other restrictions but airlines, in particular, have been hopeful that vaccine passports will reopen borders.

"By quickly establishing federal guidelines for CHCs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ... can help lead the global discussion, increasing certainty that test results are legitimate, prioritizing passenger privacy, improving operational efficiency for the aviation industry ecosystem, and strengthening protections against importation of the virus," the groups said.

—Leslie Josephs

Disney shares rise with path to reopening California theme park

Shares of Disney climbed about 5% on Monday, a few days after California provided new guidance that would allow Disneyland to reopen as soon as April 1.

Disneyland and other California-based amusement parks have been closed for about a year due to tight restrictions in the state. Disney and other park operators including CNBC parent company NBCUniversal have asked officials to allow for limited reopening of their operations.

Under the new guidance, amusement parks can reopen with 15% to 35% capacity beginning on April 1. Disney has not yet given a firm date for its reopening.

The impact of the coronavirus has forced the company to lay off tens of thousands of workers and cost it significant revenue. Disney said closures related to the pandemic cost the parks and experiences division about $2.6 billion in lost operating income for the quarter ended Jan. 2, 2021.

—Lauren Feiner

WHO says world leaders must be careful on post-vaccination guidance

Executive Director of the World Health Organization's (WHO) emergencies program Mike Ryan speaks at a news conference on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Denis Balibouse | Reuters
Executive Director of the World Health Organization's (WHO) emergencies program Mike Ryan speaks at a news conference on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland.

A World Health Organization official urged world leaders to be careful when issuing guidelines on what people can and can't do after they've been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's health emergencies program, said the guidelines could have implications for national policy and international travel down the road.

"I think there are real practical and ethical considerations as well that countries will have to address," he told reporters during a press briefing. "Because if access to vaccines is iniquitous, then inequity and unfairness can be further branded into the system if we continue to make decisions on what people can and cannot do, where they can and cannot go on the basis of being vaccinated when being vaccinated itself is not something everyone has access to."

"Then there are people who for whatever reason cannot be vaccinated or do not wish to be vaccinated. This is an important societal discussion. I think we need to be very careful," he added.

The comment came shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance that said people who are fully vaccinated can safely visit with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

NJ hospital CEO sees growing trust in Covid vaccines

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital in Newark, N.J., told CNBC a growing number of people in the nearby community want to receive the Covid vaccine.

"There is a significant amount of hesitancy, especially in communities of color and urban communities like the one we serve here in Newark," Elnahal said on "Worldwide Exchange." "The good news, though, is that hesitancy is moving in the right direction."

Elnahal said the hospital has been doing a range of community outreach events to build trust in the vaccines.

"We had only about 40% of the city of Newark and the surrounding region ready and willing to take the vaccine when it arrived," Elnahal said. "Now that number is closer to 60%."

Kevin Stankiewicz

Latest Covid bill will waive taxes on first $10,200 of unemployment income

The Senate passed over the weekend a version of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes changes to unemployment insurance — additional aid will be lowered to $300 per week from $400 but will go through Sept. 6 and taxes will be waived on the first $10,200 in unemployment income for those who made less than $150,000 in 2020.

The change could save millions of Americans who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic from getting a surprise tax bill this filing season.

On average, the policy will reduce up to $1,020 in tax liabilities, and could be more for people in higher tax brackets, said Employ America Policy Director Elizabeth Pancotti. This will either increase people's refunds or lower the amount they owe the IRS.

"Partial tax forgiveness will ensure that millions of Americans don't have to mail their relief checks back to the IRS, and can instead put food on the table, refill prescriptions and pay the rent,"  said Pancotti.

—Carmen Reinicke

Covid relief bill offers pension bail out

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan offers $86 billion in grants to some pension plans at risk of failing.

The pandemic aid bill, passed Saturday by the Senate, would make the funding available to multiemployer pension plans, which pay retirement benefits to union workers. More than 100 of these pensions are in critical shape, putting retirement benefits for about 1 million people at risk.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a government sponsored entity that typically serves as a financial backstop for pensioners, is also likely to be insolvent by 2027.

The bill's grant funding would cover full pension benefits for retirees for another 30 years. It would also reinstate any benefits that had been suspended.

Greg Iacurci

House hopes to pass $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill Tuesday

The House aims to pass Democrats' $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Tuesday and get it to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature this week.

The party aims to beat a Sunday deadline to renew key unemployment aid programs.

The House approved one version of the proposal late last month. After the Senate passed a revised bill over the weekend, representatives need to sign off on it again.

The bill extends a $300 per week jobless benefit boost until Sept. 6, sends most Americans a $1,400 direct payment and puts new funding into Covid-19 vaccine distribution, rental assistance, schools and state and local governments. The stimulus checks will start to go out this month, Biden said.

— Jacob Pramuk

CDC study finds roughly 78% of people hospitalized for Covid were overweight or obese

A women walks down the street on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.
Jeff Haynes | AFP | Getty Images
A women walks down the street on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.

A majority of people who have been hospitalized, needed a ventilator or died from Covid-19 have been overweight or obese, according to a CDC study that looked at 238 U.S. hospitals.

Among 148,494 adults who received a Covid-19 diagnosis during an emergency department or inpatient from March to December, 71,491 were hospitalized. Of those who were admitted, 27.8% were overweight and 50.2% were obese, according to the CDC report.

The agency found the risk for hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and deaths was lowest among individuals with BMIs under 25. The risk of severe illness "sharply increased," however, as BMIs rose, particularly among people 65 and older, the agency said.

Overweight is defined as having a body mass index of 25 or more while obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or more.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

CDC guidance says fully vaccinated Americans can meet safely indoors without masks

People who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can gather with other vaccinated people inside without masks and social distancing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its highly anticipated guidance for inoculated Americans.

According to the guidance, someone is considered fully vaccinated two weeks following either a single shot of Johnson & Johnson's newly authorized vaccine or two weeks after their second shot of Moderna's or Pfizer's two-dose regimens.

Vaccinated people can safely gather with those from a single household who haven't received their shots yet, as long as the unvaccinated visitors are at low risk for severe disease, the agency said. Vaccinated people should still avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings, however, and they should still wear masks and social distance when in public.

"Today's action represents an important first step; it is not our final destination," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Nearly a quarter of Americans are unwilling to get vaccinated, poll finds

A newly released Monmouth poll found that 24% of American respondents said they will "never get the vaccine if they can avoid it," and another 21% said they plan to let other people get vaccinated first before getting the shot themselves.

Those rates have remained relatively unchanged compared with January's findings, Monmouth researchers wrote, noting that "partisanship remains the main distinguishing factor among those who want to avoid the vaccine altogether."

Despite hesitation surrounding the vaccine, a majority of Americans have been satisfied with the vaccine rollout so far, according to the poll, which was conducted between Feb. 25 and March 1. While just 18% of respondents said they're "very satisfied" with the rollout, 42% indicated they're "somewhat satisfied."

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Covid relief bill will likely make student loan forgiveness tax-free

Source: Twenty/20

Senate Democrats have added a provision to their $1.9 trillion stimulus package that would end the policy of considering any student debt forgiven taxable income.

The policy change could save borrowers up to $10,000. Advocates also hope the move signals that broad debt cancellation is on the horizon.

"This will pave the way for President Biden to provide real relief to student borrowers without fearing they'll receive a huge tax bill they cannot afford," Ashley Harrington, federal advocacy director at the Center for Responsible Lending, said in a statement over the weekend.

—Annie Nova

U.S. airline passenger counts climb to the highest level since January

Air travel demand is ticking higher as more Covid-19 vaccines roll out about a year before bookings plunged at the start of the pandemic.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 1.23 million people at U.S. airports on Sunday, the most since early January, bringing the weekly total to 7.1 people. That's still just about half the number of people screened during the same week in 2020 but the second-best week of the year after the week ended Jan. 3, which included the days leading up to the New Year's holiday.

U.S. airlines, whose losses last year topped $35 billion, are starting to prepare for a recovery, including training pilots, buying new planes and even hiring again. Several executives have said they have recently noticed an uptick in bookings.

A rebound to 2019 levels, however, is expected to take years with once-profitable business and international travel likely to take longer to resume.

—Leslie Josephs

The unemployment rate will drop to 4.1% by the end of 2021, Goldman Sachs predicts

The U.S. unemployment rate could fall to 4.1% or even lower by the end of 2021, according to a Goldman Sachs forecast that is the lowest on Wall Street.

A continued boost in hospitality industry jobs, coupled with strong overall economic growth and continued government stimulus, are expected to fuel the jobs boom.

"The main reason that we expect a hiring boom this year is that reopening, fiscal stimulus, and pent-up savings should fuel very strong demand growth," the firm said in a note.

Though the jobless rate has tumbled from its pandemic high of 14.7% to 6.2%, more than 8 million fewer Americans are at work now than a year ago. Goldman expects the jobs market could see a return to its pre-pandemic level "well ahead" of the end of 2022.

—Jeff Cox

Baxter to provide manufacturing, packaging services for the Moderna vaccine

A nurse draws a Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, at East Valley Community Health Center in La Puente, California, March 5, 2021.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters
A nurse draws a Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, at East Valley Community Health Center in La Puente, California, March 5, 2021.

Baxter BioPharma Solutions said it will provide both manufacturing and packaging services for approximately 60 million to 90 million doses of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine this year.

The manufacturing will take place at Baxter's facility in Indiana, the company said in a press release.

"We welcome the opportunity to work with Baxter BioPharma Solutions on fill/finish manufacturing for the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine in the U.S.," Juan Andres, Moderna's chief technical operations and quality officer, said in the release. "This additional production will help us continue to scale up our manufacturing capacity in the United States."

The announcement comes as Moderna works to rapidly build the supply of its vaccine to meet demand in the U.S. The company has an agreement with the U.S. government to provide 300 million doses of its two-shot vaccine, enough to inoculate 150 million Americans.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

“The Code Breaker” author Walter Isaacson on his new book about the future of gene editing

"It could transform health in this country, health around the world and the human race," Walter Isaacson, Tulane professor and an advisory partner at Perella Weinberg Partners, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" about the power of CRISPR technology in health care.

"We are going to be using this technology to make ourselves less susceptible to viruses" such as Covid-19, he said.

Vaccine nationalism could prolong pandemic as some nations wait for doses

CNBC's Meg Tirrell reports a Duke University analysis shows rich counties, representing about 16% of the world's population, have purchased more than half of all Covid vaccine doses.

—Melodie Warner 

Lingering Covid symptoms add to health care costs for some patients

CNBC's Bertha Coombs reports on the health care costs for so-called long haulers, or patients with lingering effects from Covid.

—Melodie Warner 

The U.S. cannot let its guard down on Covid rules, doctor says

Julie Morita of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation told CNBC coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still at high levels in the U.S., and it is "way too early" to be relaxing and congregating in large groups.

Young people may spend half their stimulus checks on stocks, Deutsche survey finds

A survey from Deutsche Bank has given an insight into how much cash from U.S. stimulus checks might find its way into the stock market.

Responses in the survey showed that half of 25- to 34-year-olds plan to spend 50% of their stimulus checks on stocks, leading the German investment bank to state that "a large amount of the upcoming U.S. stimulus checks will probably find their way into equities."

Meanwhile, 18- to 24-year-olds involved in the survey planned to use 40% of any stimulus checks on stocks, and those between 35 and 54 years old planned to use 37% of their checks on stock market investment. The over-55s surveyed said they'd put only 16% into stocks.

Holly Ellyatt

Rise in cases is partly due to lockdown fatigue, WHO chief scientist says

Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organization, told CNBC there has been an uptick in Covid-19 cases over the last two weeks. She said the world needs to "double down" on preventive measures to keep the coronavirus under control until there are enough vaccines to contain the virus.

U.S. says Russian-backed outlets are spreading vaccine 'disinformation'

Walgreens healthcare professional Luis S. Solano prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTec vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Victor Walchirk Apartments in Evanston, Illinois, February 22, 2021.
Kamil Krzaczynski | Reuters
Walgreens healthcare professional Luis S. Solano prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTec vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Victor Walchirk Apartments in Evanston, Illinois, February 22, 2021.

The U.S. accused Russia's intelligence services of seeking to undermine faith in Covid-19 vaccines developed by U.S. biotech firms Pfizer and Moderna via three online publications, Reuters reported.

The State Department's Global Engagement Center, which is tasked with countering propaganda and disinformation campaigns, identified the three publications, a spokeswoman said.

In addition to the campaign against Pfizer and Moderna, the Russian outlets are spreading other types of disinformation, including "international organizations, military conflicts, protests, and any divisive issue that they can exploit," the spokeswoman told Reuters.

"The Department will continue to expose Russia's nefarious activities online," she said. "We will also continue to work closely with our allies and partners to provide a global response to countering disinformation."

Terri Cullen

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

Covid updates: Arizona, West Virginia lift capacity limits on businesses; FDA greenlights at-home test

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