Covid Updates: Democrats Move to Pass Relief Bill; Air Travel Hits 36-Year Low

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The coverage on this live blog is now over.

The seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases in the U.S. fell 23% from a week ago to about 85,200 as of Feb. 15, while Covid-related deaths hold steady at roughly 3,000 per day, according to a seven-day average of data from Johns Hopkins University. The rollout of Covid vaccines in the U.S. has been slow and complex. To reach more Americans, CVS Health and Walgreens were tapped to play a bigger role as a federal program ships doses to more of their stores and other retail pharmacies. 

Here are some of the biggest developments Tuesday:

The U.S. is recording at least 85,200 new Covid-19 cases and at least 3,000 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 109.44 million
  • Global deaths: At least 2.41 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 27.74 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 487,564

Colombia builds inflatable domes for Covid patients amid hospital-bed shortage

A person stands inside a Portable Epidemiological Insulation Unit during a media presentation, in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.
Fernando Vergara | AP
A person stands inside a Portable Epidemiological Insulation Unit during a media presentation, in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.

Colombian architects have designed portable, inflatable domes so doctors can tend to Covid-19 patients as the country faces a shortage of hospital beds, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The domes are 16-feet wide and can house two patients. They are connected via inflatable hallways and use tubes to circulate the air.

"We wanted to do something to respond to the health emergency the world is going through," Alex Perez, an architecture professor who led the dome initiative, told the AP. "At the start of the pandemic many health systems collapsed and patients were put in gyms or airport hangars, but the conditions in those places were not always the best."

"These structures allow you to isolate coronavirus patients, but also keep an eye on them, because they're transparent," he said.

Colombia has the second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Latin America. As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly 2.2 million infections had been reported in Colombia, data from Johns Hopkins University showed.

Fred Imbert

Democrats move to pass Covid relief before the end of the month

The House is preparing to stay in session through the end of February to pass Democrats' $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

The party aims to approve its aid bill — likely without any Republican votes — before key unemployment programs expire on March 14. Democrats are pushing the proposal through under budget reconciliation, a process that allows legislation to pass with a simple majority in the Senate.

The House Budget Committee will move in the coming days to combine pieces of legislation drafted by separate panels into one massive bill. Once the full House approves the legislation, it goes to the Senate, which will determine whether the proposal complies with strict budget rules.

The plan as put forward by House Democrats includes $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, a $400 per week unemployment supplement through Aug. 29, $350 billion in state local and tribal aid, and $20 billion for a national Covid-19 vaccination program, among other provisions.

The Senate has one less responsibility to juggle after it completed former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial over the weekend. The chamber fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to convict him of inciting an insurrection against the government.

— Jacob Pramuk

Fauci delays timeline for widespread vaccine availability in the U.S. to May

White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that he expects most Americans will have access to a Covid-19 vaccine by either mid-to-late May or early June. That's a slight delay compared with his previous forecast of late March or early April

The infectious disease expert said the federal government was expecting "considerably more" initial doses from Johnson & Johnson, which has applied for an emergency authorization in the U.S. However, the New York Times first reported in January that unexpected manufacturing delays would lead to a reduced initial supply of J&J's drug if given emergency authorization.

"It may take until June, July and August to finally get everybody vaccinated," Fauci told CNN on Tuesday. "So when you hear about how long it's going to take to get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, I don't think anybody disagrees that that's going to be well to the end of the summer and we get into the early fall."

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Pandemic pushes annual airline passenger traffic to 36-year low

U.S. passenger airlines carried 371 million people in 2020, the fewest since 1984, according to new data from the Department of Transportation.

In December, passenger traffic on U.S. carriers fell 62% from the year earlier to 30.4 million. The annual total was more than 60% lower than in 2019.

Airlines have said they expect weak demand to continue in early 2021 because of persistent Covid-19 cases and a slow rollout of vaccines, but that travel demand will likely perk up in the second half of the year.

Leslie Josephs

U.S. vaccination progress, by state

Biden extends more relief for homeowners

Young man at home, paying his bills online
AleksandarNakic | E+ | Getty Images
Young man at home, paying his bills online

Homeowners struggling amid Covid were offered new relief programs by the Biden administration on Tuesday.

Those with government-backed mortgages will have more time to delay their monthly payments as well as more protection from foreclosure.

Wondering what relief is available and if you qualify? Here's what we know so far.

–Annie Nova

White House boosts weekly vaccine supply to states to 13.5 million

The Biden administration will send out 13.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine per week to states going forward, up from 11 million last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced Tuesday.

The White House will also double the number of doses sent directly to retail pharmacies, Psaki said, up from 1 million last week. That partnership with pharmaceutical companies began last week, when doses were shipped to 6,500 stores nationwide. Psaki said the administration hopes to eventually expand that program to include 40,000 stores.

The administration has been announcing gradual increases in the amount of vaccine being distributed every week while opening up new distribution channels such as pharmacies, community health centers and federally run vaccination centers. After a slower-than-expected initial rollout of the vaccine, many states now say the lack of supply from the federal government is the biggest constraint.

—Will Feuer

Repeat layoffs have swelled during the pandemic

Repeat layoffs have swelled in recent months, signaling unstable work prospects for many Americans and hinting at deep pain in the labor market.

Almost 2 in 3 workers who began receiving unemployment benefits in October collected them at least one other time since April, according to a new paper by economists at the University of Chicago and JPMorgan Chase Institute.

That may occur if workers were recalled to a job in the summer but were laid off again in the fall, for example. In California, 96% of new unemployment claims from accommodation-and-food-services workers are due to repeat layoffs.

At the same time, continuous long-term unemployment spells are also increasing nationwide.

Greg Iacurci

Quest Diagnostics doubles genetics sequencing to find Covid variants

A Quest Diagnostics requisition form is displayed for a photograph at Perry Memorial Hospital in Princeton, Illinois, U.S..
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A Quest Diagnostics requisition form is displayed for a photograph at Perry Memorial Hospital in Princeton, Illinois, U.S..

Quest Diagnostics said it has doubled the amount of genetic sequencing it's doing in an effort to track new mutations and variants of the coronavirus.

The company announced last month that it was helping the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track new variants of the virus in the U.S. by sequencing more samples from around the country. The company is now sequencing 2,000 samples per week, up from 1,000 per week when the partnership was announced, the company said.

Quest also noted that it continues to expand its testing capacity to provide services to businesses, schools and elsewhere that might want large-scale testing to reopen.

"Although demand for COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing has recently declined, the spread of more infectious variants and loosening of restrictions in certain parts of the country could lead to another surge of cases," Quest said in a statement. "Moreover, COVID-19 testing continues to play a significant role in pandemic response."

—Will Feuer

Moderna expects to deliver 100 million doses by end of March, full 300 million in July

A Moderna (COVID-19) vaccine is seen at the LA Mission homeless shelter on Skid Row, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 10, 2021.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters
A Moderna (COVID-19) vaccine is seen at the LA Mission homeless shelter on Skid Row, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 10, 2021.

Moderna expects to deliver 100 million doses of its two-shot coronavirus vaccine to the U.S. government by end of March, according to an update from the company.

The company will supply an additional 100 million doses by the end of May and complete its agreement with the U.S. for 300 million doses by the end of July, it said.

The update comes after President Joe Biden said Thursday that his administration had secured deals with Pfizer and Moderna for another 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, bringing the U.S. total to 600 million. Because the vaccines require two doses, a total of 600 million doses would be enough to inoculate 300 million Americans.

Moderna has supplied 45.4 million doses of its vaccine to the U.S. so far.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Vaccine rollout is the key to everything global markets and the economy this year, strategist says

Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors, tells CNBC the vaccination data is so important because it will give us an indication as to when global economies can reopen, and when we can see the recovery everyone is expecting.

Presidents Day holiday boosts air travel, but passenger counts are still short of last year

The Presidents Day holiday drew more air travelers, with Transportation Security Administration airport screenings topping 1 million a day on Thursday and Friday, the most since the start of January.

Despite the uptick, screening volumes are still less than half of last year's levels as the pandemic continues to depress air travel demand.

Southwest Airlines said leisure demand has improved in February from January and that it expects even more of an uptick in March from this month, warning that business travel and bookings, in general, are still depressed.

The carrier expects its operating revenue this month to be down 65% to 70% from last year, compared with an earlier forecast of sales down as much as 75% year-over-year. It forecast March revenue down 20% to 30%, compared with last year with capacity off 15%.

Leslie Josephs

New Orleans shuts down bars for Mardi Gras

The Kraken house float, on Memphis St., in Lakeview, is one of thousands in the New Orleans area decorated in celebration of Mardi Gras in Louisiana, U.S., February 7, 2021.
Kathleen Flynn | Reuters
The Kraken house float, on Memphis St., in Lakeview, is one of thousands in the New Orleans area decorated in celebration of Mardi Gras in Louisiana, U.S., February 7, 2021.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell closed all bars in the city from the Friday before Mardi Gras through Fat Tuesday itself, citing coronavirus-related concerns, NBC News reported.

Cantrell said on Feb. 5 that liquor sales wouldn't be allowed in the French Quarter, even from liquor stores, and to-go beverages were banned during the five days. According to NBC News, parades and large gatherings were already prohibited, and masks and social distancing are required.

"We had already purchased all of our food and drink supplies ... and we had the rug pulled out from under us at the last minute," said Beaux Church, director of Café Lafitte in Exile, Good Friends Bar and Rawhide 2010. "All of the bar owners would have been much better off with at least two weeks' notice."

Officials said the restrictions are necessary to avoid a repeat of Mardi Gras 2020, which attracted over a million people to New Orleans to celebrate Carnival and unknowingly contributed to the outbreak and caused the city's hospitals to reach capacity, NBC News reported.

Some residents enjoyed this year's celebrations by creating extravagant house floats to replace the usual parade floats, reports CNBC's Rich Mendez and Adam Jeffery.

—Melodie Warner 

House Democrats may vote on Covid relief bill this month

CNBC's Ylan Mui reports Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes the House can get the bill for a coronavirus stimulus package done by the end of the month.

CVS earnings top expectations as it plays bigger role with Covid vaccines

CVS Health's fiscal fourth-quarter earnings topped Wall Street's expectations as the drugstore chain plays a bigger role with the nationwide rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.

The drugstore chain said it has administered about 15 million tests nationwide. It's also given more than 3 million Covid vaccines in over 40,000 long-term care facilities. The drugstore chain and its competitor, Walgreens, struck a deal with the federal government to provide shots to staff and residents at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Same-store sales grew 5.3% during the three-month period compared with a year earlier. They jumped by 7.5% in the pharmacy division, as prescription volume rose, but were down by 1.8% in the front of store, as customers skipped visits and did not need to buy as much flu and cold medication during the pandemic.

Melissa Repko

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

Covid updates: White House backs away from requiring negative tests for domestic flights; closures still worry businesses

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