American Airlines backs more federal aid as 13,000 furloughs loom

American Airlines warned it could furlough as many as 13,000 employees as a second round of federal payroll aid is set to expire April 1 without a demand recovery.

Airline labor unions are seeking $15 billion more in federal payroll support for the industry to keep jobs through Sept. 30.

“We are fully behind our union leaders’ efforts to fight for an extension and we will lend our time and energy to support this effort in every way we can,” American CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom told staff.

The notices are federally required but don’t guarantee that all of those workers will lose their jobs. The airline is offering leaves of absence with partial pay and early retirement to try to reduce its payroll.

The furlough warnings come less than a week after United Airlines said it could furlough up to 14,000 on April 1. The federal aid prohibited airlines from cutting jobs and forced them to recall employees who were furloughed after a $25 billion aid package expired on Oct. 1.

Leslie Josephs

National Women’s Hockey League suspends rest of 2021season

Katie Burt, goaltender for the Boston Pride, plays against the Buffalo Beauts in an NWHL playoff game at Harborcenter in Buffalo, NY on March 9, 2019.

Stan Grossfeld | Boston Globe | Getty Images

The National Women’s Hockey League has suspended the remainder of the 2021 season after new positive Covid-19 tests.

The suspension comes as two of six teams withdrew from the two-week tournament after safety concerns.

The NWHL didn’t crown a 2020 champion in its fifth season due to pandemic effects. The sixth season was supposed to take place in Lake Placid.

Rich Mendez

Nearly 70% of Americans back Biden’s Covid relief plan, poll finds

President Joe Biden speaks to the press as he departs the White House in Washington, DC, on January 29, 2021. – Biden travels to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden appears to have public sentiment behind his coronavirus relief plan.

A new Quinnipiac University poll found 68% of Americans support his $1.9 trillion rescue package. Meanwhile, 78% and 61% of respondents back the $1,400 direct payments and $15 per hour minimum wage, respectively, included in the proposal.

Democrats, who control the House and Senate, have pushed ahead with the process that will allow them to pass the sprawling aid bill without any Republican support. GOP lawmakers have expressed doubts about spending nearly $2 trillion after Congress passed a $900 billion relief plan in December.

A handful of the most centrist GOP senators proposed a $618 billion plan to Biden. The president and Democratic congressional leaders consider it too small to mitigate the health and economic crises wrought by the pandemic.

— Jacob Pramuk

United Airlines flight attendants rule out furlough reduction measure

United Airlines flight attendants ruled out a furlough-mitigation program that would allow some cabin crew members to volunteer for unpaid time off, pick up shifts when possible and keep their medical benefits.

The airline last week sent out furlough notices to roughly 14,000 employees as a second round of federal payroll aid nears its expiration after March 31 with little sign of an uptick in travel demand in the pandemic.

Other programs that aim to reduce the number of flight-attendant furloughs are still in play, however, including another voluntary leave program and a schedule-sharing option. Flight attendants have to bid on those programs, which have a limited number of spots.

“We recognize that while there were differences of opinion on how best to move forward, there will be a significant portion of our Membership for which this is devastating news,” the Association of Flight Attendants, their labor union, said in a note to members on Wednesday. “While we will not pursue negotiating ways to mitigate any involuntary furlough, we will continue to have conversations with management about reducing the number subject to involuntary furlough from 12,000 to a lower number considering the potential for increased spring and summer travel; as well as the continuing roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine.”

American Airlines, meanwhile, told its employees last week to brace for furlough notices as the federal aid expiration nears.–Leslie Josephs

Unequal vaccine distribution could prolong global economic recovery, WHO says

Global Covid-19 cases are on the decline, even in countries that have identified fast-spreading variants of the coronavirus, but the unequal distribution of life-saving vaccines could make for a bumpy economic recovery, World Health Organization officials said.

There were 3.7 million new global cases reported during the week ending Jan. 31, a 13% decrease compared with the prior week, according to the WHO’s latest situation report. Deaths, which lag new cases by a few weeks, posted a modest 1% decline over the week.

The decrease is welcomed news, but the number of weekly new infections is “still an awful lot of people,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program. On top of that, poorer nations have not had the same access to vaccines as higher-income countries, making it harder for them to reopen their economies without adding risk to their health systems.

“Right now, the unequal distribution of vaccines means that not all societies are going to get an equal chance to come back online and that’s simply not fair,” Ryan said.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Yankee Stadium will open for vaccinations Friday

New York City will open its temporary mass coronavirus vaccination site at Yankee Stadium for its residents in the Bronx starting Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

The site will offer 15,000 appointments during its first week of operation, the statement said. The stadium will specifically target residents in the Bronx, which has had the highest positivity rate, or percent of total tests returning positive, of any of the city’s five boroughs.

“It’s abundantly clear that Black, Latino and poor communities have been hit the hardest by COVID, and the Bronx is no exception,” Cuomo said in a statement.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

At least 6% of residents in every state have received at least one vaccination shot

State-level vaccination data published to the CDC website on Wednesday show that at least 6% of the population in every state and Washington, D.C. has now received at least one vaccine shot. 

Vaccination progress varies across the country. Alaska is the state with the highest share of residents who have received at least one shot at 13.4%, followed by West Virginia, New Mexico and Connecticut, which are all over 10%. On the other end of the spectrum, three states are reporting less than 6.5% of their residents having received at least one vaccine shot: Idaho, Missouri, and Iowa. 

Nationwide, 27.2 million people have received at least one shot, according to CDC data, slightly more than 8% of the U.S. population.

—Nate Rattner

San Francisco sues its own school district to force a reopening

A teacher wearing a protective mask walks around the classroom during a lesson at an elementary school in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

San Francisco took the unprecedented step of suing its own school district in an attempt to force schools to reopen, the Associated Press reports.

The lawsuit may be the first of its kind in the country, as virtual classrooms come under fire by educators and legislators for being insufficient for the learning process.

According to the report, the lawsuit claims school administrators are violating a state requirement that says school districts have to create a plan to “offer classroom-based instruction whenever possible. Teachers unions have said they won’t return to work without first being vaccinated.

San Francisco’s attorney will file a motion Feb. 11 requesting an emergency order to ensure the district formulates a reopening plan, according to the report.

Rich Mendez

U.S. has doled out another 1.1 million vaccine shots since Tuesday

The U.S. has doled out another 1.1 million vaccine shots since Tuesday morning, according to updated data from the CDC, for a total of 33.8 million doses administered to date. That’s about 60% of the total 55.9 million doses distributed to states so far.

President Joe Biden set a public goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office. His administration is currently getting an average of 1.3 million shots into arms each day, according to a CNBC analysis of the CDC data.

—Sara Salinas

Legal experts say colleges can require vaccinations for students

Students traverse the Talley Student Union at the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. August 7, 2020.

Jonathan Drake | Reuters

Medical experts say that in order for colleges to return to “normal,” many students will need to receive the coronavirus vaccine and legal experts say colleges are able to require students to get vaccinated.

“Under everything that we’ve seen, and the guidance from agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Education, it’s been stated that just like how [colleges] can require other vaccines like meningitis and measles and hepatitis for incoming students, that they could require this vaccine as well,” said attorney Renee Mattei Myers. “I think the best thing you could do is have [the vaccine] available and pay for it. Make it as easy as possible for these individuals and students to get vaccinated.”

Fortunately for schools, many students say they are eager to get the vaccine. A recent survey found that 71% of students believe colleges have the right to require students to get vaccinated before returning to campus.

—Abigail Johnson Hess

CDC director says schools can safely reopen without vaccinating teachers

Rochelle Walensky, who has been nominated to serve as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks after US President-elect Joe Biden announced his team tasked with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on December 8, 2020.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said schools can safely reopen without vaccinating teachers against Covid-19.

“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated,” Walensky told reporters during a White House press briefing on Covid-19.

School systems across the U.S. have been under pressure to reopen after shifting to remote learning last year due to the pandemic, which has infected more than 26.4 million Americans and killed at least 447,077 in a little over a year. Some parents have been forced to stay at home to watch their children instead of going to work.

The Biden administration has released a Covid rescue plan that includes providing schools and universities $170 billion to help with the reopening. The money would be used in part to scale up testing. The administration has said testing is a “critical” strategy for controlling the spread of the virus, but added tests are still not widely available.

Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

New travel restrictions could limit 2021 airline demand growth to just 13%

A traveler wearing a face mask is seen at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, the United States, Feb. 2, 2021.

Ting Shen | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

More contagious strains of Covid-19 and new travel restrictions could limit air travel demand this year to just a 13% increase from 2020, the International Air Transport Association said.

The trade group currently forecasts demand will rise by more than 50% this year from last, which would put passenger traffic at just over half of 2019 levels, but warned of “severe downside risk” if more travel restrictions are put in place.

The U.S. government is “actively looking” at whether to require Covid-19 tests for domestic flights, something it mandated last month for inbound international travel. Many countries, including the U.S., are still limiting international travel or have strict quarantine requirements in place.

“Last year was a catastrophe. There is no other way to describe it,” said IATA’s director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “What recovery there was over the Northern hemisphere summer season stalled in autumn and the situation turned dramatically worse over the year-end holiday season, as more severe travel restrictions were imposed in the face of new outbreaks and new strains of COVID-19.

Leslie Josephs

45% of people have traveled during pandemic, despite warnings

People walk at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.

Hannah McKay | Reuters

People are continuing to travel during the pandemic, despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new survey from credit-card-review site The Points Guy found that 45% of people have taken at least one trip since the start of the pandemic.

The survey defined a trip as traveling several hours by car, plane, train or other modes of transportation.

Of the people who reported traveling amid pandemic, 27% of respondents said they took one to two trips, 12% said they took three to four trips and 6% took more than four trips.

The CDC recommended people delay trips because travel increases your chances of spreading or getting Covid-19. The Points Guy survey — conducted between Jan. 25 and Jan. 26 with 1,300 U.S. adults — also found that 33% of people have trips planned for 2021.

President Joe Biden recently signed executive orders mandating face masks at airports and on airplanes, trains and buses. International travelers are also required to present a negative Covid-19 test before entering the U.S. and to quarantine upon arrival. 

Cory Stieg

New Jersey to expand indoor capacity at restaurants, events to 35%, Gov. Murphy says

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state will allow indoor operations at restaurants to expand from 25% to 35%. Murphy said he will lift a statewide order that requires restaurants to close their indoor dining sections at 10 p.m., although local restrictions could remain in place if necessary.

The state will also allow indoor gatherings for events, like weddings and funerals, and indoor performance venues to take place at 35% capacity or with a 150-person limit, Murphy said.

New Jersey is reporting roughly 4,530 Covid-19 cases daily, based on a seven-day average, which is a 12% decline compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Zoom adds features to help companies safely use its video calling software when offices reopen

Zoom, whose video-calling software became widely used when the pandemic set in, announced updates that could help companies stay with its products when offices open again, while reducing the need for physical contact.

The company will allow customers of its Zoom Rooms service to turn a touchscreen into a system visitors can use to speak with receptionists. The company is adding support for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant so people in a conference room can join or end meetings by speaking, and attendees will be able to access meeting controls on Android and iOS devices instead of having to touch buttons on dedicated computer hardware.

Jordan Novet

NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi tests positive, has mild symptoms

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said he is experiencing mild symptoms after recently testing positive for Covid-19.

“In New York City and across the country, COVID continues to circulate in our communities, and all of us are potentially exposed to the virus,” Chokshi said in a statement. “A testament to this fact is that I recently got tested and received a positive diagnosis for COVID-19. I now have mild symptoms, but they are manageable.”

Chokshi said he has been in touch with New York City’s Test and Trace Corps to reach out to those he’s been in contact with who might have been exposed.

“This is a reminder – if we ever needed one – that COVID is still with us and we all must continue to wear masks, wash our hands, socially distance and stay home if feeling ill,” he said.

Terri Cullen

Fauci cautions against attending Super Bowl parties to avoid spreading the virus

Dr. Anthony Fauci on White House virtual press conference

Source: The White House

The U.S.’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned against holding or attending Super Bowl parties during the pandemic, the Associated Press reports. Football fans should “just lay low and cool it,” he said.

Fauci made the remarks during TV interviews, saying that now is the wrong time to invite people over to watch the big game because some may unknowingly be infected with Covid-19 and could spread the virus to other partygoers, AP reported.

“You don’t want parties with people that you haven’t had much contact with,” Fauci told NBC’s “Today” show. “You just don’t know if they’re infected, so, as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it.”

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warned against attending Super Bowl parties.

“Whichever team you’re rooting for and whichever commercial is your favorite, please watch the Super Bowl safely, gathering only virtually or with the people you live with,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House Covid-19 briefing. “We must take prevention and intervention seriously.”

The Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are scheduled to go head to head at Super Bowl LV on Sunday, Feb. 7.

Terri Cullen

Britain struggling to contain Covid variants, spread of South Africa strain

Paramedics move a patient from a ambulance to the Royal London Hospital in east London on January 28, 2021.

Justin Tallis | AFP | Getty Images

The U.K. is attempting to contain the spread of various strains of the coronavirus in the country, with a new South Africa variant popping up around the country, and sometimes with no links to international travel, according to a report by CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the country had to “come down hard” on the South Africa strain after 105 cases were logged, with 11 of the cases showing no links to international travel. The variant known as the “British strain” makes up most of the cases in the country.

Viruses mutate all the time and the discovery of variants is normal, but experts worry that variants may mean a faster and further spread of the virus.

As of Feb. 1, almost 10 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and just under 500,000 have received a second dose, according to government numbers.

—Rich Mendez

U.S. service sector activity near two-year high in January, ISM survey shows

Activity in the U.S. service sector reached its highest level in nearly two years, raising hopes the sector battered by the pandemic may be on the mend, Reuters reports.

The Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing activity index rose to 58.7 in January — the highest reading since February 2019 and above its pre-pandemic level, Reuters said. Economists polled by Reuters had expected the reading to come in at 56.8.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the service sector.

Consumer spending shifted drastically from services to goods as the pandemic forced lockdowns and drove people away from crowded public places such as restaurants and bars, according to Reuters. Now that multiple drugmakers have begun production and distribution of vaccines, hopes are rising that the virus can be contained and the economy can soon return to some semblance of normalcy.

Terri Cullen

Older Americans struggle to book vaccine appointments online

Evelyn Mellman, 82, of Studio City, tries to keep warm while waiting with others in the by appointment only line to get vaccine shots to protect against the coronavirus at the Balboa Sports Complex in Encino.

Mel Melcon | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

Older Americans across the U.S. who are now eligible for Covid-19 vaccines are struggling to book an appointment for the life-saving drug online. Some have recruited younger family members or friends who can quickly maneuver through the registration process before all of the spots are taken.

However, the amount of doses from Pfizer and Moderna are still limited, which has triggered demand that has far outpaced supply. 

“I wanted to throw my computer out the window. It was so extremely frustrating,” said Jane Heller, a 70-year-old author and screenwriter based in Florida.

Angela Abruzzino, of Buffalo County, New York, said she’s been trying for days to book appointments for her parents, who are over 80 years old. The process has been a full-time effort, and it’s so far been fruitless, she said.

“My parents would not have been able to do it on their own,” Abruzzino said.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn, Will Feuer

Vaxart says its oral vaccine produced promising results in early trial

Vaxart oral vaccine

Source: Vaxart

Biotech firm Vaxart said its experimental coronavirus vaccine taken by mouth showed promising results in an early-stage clinical trial of 35 healthy adults.

The vaccine, which is in a small tablet, generated a type of T-cell responsible for destroying virus-infected cells in about 75% of volunteers who received a single low or high dose, the company said, adding that the reported responses were higher than those seen in Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines.

However, neutralizing antibodies were not detected in volunteers after a single dose, Vaxart said. Researchers believe the antibodies play an important role in defending cells against the virus.

The company also said no severe adverse events were reported in the phase one trial, with side effects generally being mild.

“The most exciting thing about the [phase one data] is we can get a very, very, strong T-cell response even after one dose,” Vaxart chief scientific officer Sean Tucker told CNBC in a phone interview. He added that T-cells are probably “underappreciated” compared to antibodies in fighting the virus.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Private jobs surge in January

Private companies in the U.S. added 174,000 new jobs in January, blowing out the 50,000 gain expected by Wall Street economists, CNBC’s Jeff Cox reports.

The national labor market continues to wage a recovery from widespread coronavirus shutdowns and historic unemployment. That rebound has been rocky of late, as a resurgence in virus transmission and more contagious variants threaten communities.

—Sara Salinas

GlaxoSmithKline and CureVac strike deal to develop vaccine that targets Covid variants

AstraZeneca vaccine can cut virus spread, delayed second dose is effective, study finds

Dose of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is displayed from its box at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, Britain January 2, 2021.

Gareth Fuller | Reuters

The U.K.’s decision to delay the second shot of the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford coronavirus vaccine has been found to be an effective strategy, according to the results of a new study, which also concluded that one shot can cut transmission of the virus.

Researchers at the University of Oxford found that the Covid-19 vaccine was 76% effective at preventing symptomatic infection for three months after a single dose, and in fact, found that the efficacy rate rose with a longer interval between the first and second doses.

The efficacy rate rose to 82.4% when there was at least a 12-week interval before the second dose. When the second dose was given less than six weeks after the first one, the efficacy rate was 54.9%.

The study, not yet peer-reviewed, also found a 67% reduction in transmission after the first dose of the vaccine. The U.K.’s health secretary said Wednesday the study’s findings were “absolutely superb.”

Holly Ellyatt

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