Covid Updates: U.S. Death Toll Hits 300,000; New Virus Variant Spreading in UK

Callaghan O'Hare | Reuters

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The first doses of a Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine began shipping over the weekend, and the first vaccinations in the U.S. are set to take place Monday. The vaccine is a two-dose shot and roughly 95% effective in preventing the virus. It's likely to be administered to health-care and front-line workers first, followed closely by vulnerable populations like older people living in nursing homes. The arrival of a long-awaited vaccine offers the promise of a return to normal in the coming year, but health experts maintain public safety measures are still necessary while the drug is distributed.

The U.S. is recording at least 213,700 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,400 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data.

Here are some of the biggest developments Monday:

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 72.65 million
  • Global deaths: At least 1.61 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 16.4 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 300,361

California AG says Amazon is not delivering enough information in coronavirus warehouse probe

California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Amazon has failed to comply with subpoenas for more information on its coronavirus safety practices, as part of a broader probe into its treatment of warehouse workers during the pandemic.

In the spring, Becerra launched a probe looking into working conditions at Amazon's California warehouses during the pandemic. As part of the probe, Becerra contacted Amazon on Aug. 19 to gather more information on coronavirus-related data, policies, practices and procedures.

Now, Becerra alleges Amazon has failed to adequately respond to the office's subpoena and he's asking a Sacramento County Superior Court judge to order Amazon to comply with its requests, according to a court filing published Monday.

"It has been nearly six months since the Attorney General's initial request to Amazon," the filing states. "The slow drip of information from Amazon is an insufficient response."

Representatives from Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The information requested by the office from Amazon has become increasingly crucial as the spread of the coronavirus continues to accelerate across the country, the filing notes.

—Annie Palmer

U.S. death toll tops 300,000 as vaccine distribution begins

The U.S. coronavirus death toll topped 300,000 as Americans received some of the first shots of Pfizer's vaccine, CNBC's Emma Newburger and Noah Higgins-Dunn report.

The national death toll outpaces every other country in the world by a margin of 100,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Brazil has recorded the second-highest death toll at 181,000, followed by India with 143,000 virus fatalities.

Public health officials say Americans will need to continue to practice safety measures, such as wearing masks, until enough people are vaccinated. Roughly 75% to 80% of the U.S. population must get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, or a period where enough people are protected so that the virus can be contained, officials say.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who is leading President Donald Trump's vaccine program to Operation Warp Speed, said Sunday that he hopes to achieve herd immunity between May and June.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

CVS Health, Walgreens expect to give Covid shots at stores in early spring

Americans will have to wait a few more months before they can walk into their neighborhood drugstore or grocery store and get a Covid-19 vaccine.

In interviews with CNBC, CVS Health and Walgreens executives said they expect to give shots to customers at stores in the early spring. Two prominent public health officials — Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House coronavirus advisor, and Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health — both said Monday that they expect healthy Americans to start getting the vaccine by late March or April.

"Over the next couple of months we anticipate that we'll be able to have [it in] our stores similar to the flu season," Rina Shah, group vice president of pharmacy operations at Walgreens, said Monday on CNBC's "The Exchange." She said that would be "hopefully in the spring timeframe."

For now, Shah said, it's important for health-care workers and long-term care facilities residents to take priority because supplies remain limited.

"As more and more vaccine becomes available, access to that vaccine will continue to grow," she said.

—Melissa Repko

U.S. plans to ship 6 million Moderna vaccine doses after FDA OK

U.S. officials said they plan to ship just under 6 million doses of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine once the Food and Drug Administration issues an approval for emergency use. The authorization could come as early as Friday.

Medical supply company McKesson will obtain the doses from Moderna for packaging and distribution to 3,285 sites across the country. The initial shipments of Moderna's vaccine are more than double the 2.9 million doses the U.S. prepared to ship for Pfizer's vaccine.

"The difference in quantities was about what was available when we were doing planning for initial delivery," Gen. Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for Operation Warp Speed, told reporters. "As early as 15th [of] November, I snapped the chalk line on what was available to Pfizer so states could do the planning."

"We wanted them to have enough time as possible to do the planning and realize where they wanted to go first," Perna said.

Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

States mark first vaccinations with applause

The United States on Monday administered the first shots of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine to health-care workers, marking a pivotal moment in the country's long march to bring the virus under control.

The vaccine comes at an urgent time, with the U.S. nearing 300,000 total Covid-19 deaths and top health officials warning that daily new deaths might not slow for months, even with a vaccine.

With distribution challenges ahead and the outbreak still raging, officials and health-care workers took time Monday to celebrate the arrival of the vaccine, and the hope it represents. Across the country, images flowed in of health-care workers receiving their first shots and the first doses arriving at more than one hundred distribution sites.

For a round-up of various states' ceremonies marking the first vaccination against Covid-19 in their state, follow along here.

—Will Feuer

At stake in talks over Covid-19 relief: Funding for vaccine distribution

Dr. Jason Smith displays his bandage after being administered a COVID-19 vaccination at University of Louisville Hospital on December 14, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Jon Cherry | Getty Images
Dr. Jason Smith displays his bandage after being administered a COVID-19 vaccination at University of Louisville Hospital on December 14, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Much-needed funding for Covid-19 vaccine distribution effort remains in limbo as lawmakers continue to debate their next rescue package for the economy, even as the first doses of Pfizer's newly approved drug begin to be administered.

The latest stimulus proposal, a $908 billion bill proposed by a bipartisan slate of lawmakers from both chambers of Congress, includes $6 billion for vaccine distribution efforts.

That matches the amount the Trump administration has said will be necessary but undershoots the figures called for by national organizations representing health officials, which say more than $8 billion is required. It's not clear if the legislation will gain enough support to pass into law.

President-elect Joe Biden has warned that unless Congress quickly provides funding, efforts to swiftly vaccinate the public could be stalled.

"We need Congress to finish the bipartisan work underway now or millions of Americans may wait months longer — months longer — than they otherwise would have to to get their vaccinations," Biden said last week.

—Tucker Higgins

American Airlines announces first flight carrying coronavirus vaccines

American Airlines has joined United Airlines in flying the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccines.

The Fort Worth-based airline said it completed its first flight carrying the vaccine from Chicago to Miami on Sunday and that the doses will "arrive at its final destination in a U.S. territory in the Caribbean later today."

Passenger airlines are working alongside shipping giants like UPS and FedEx in positioning vaccines for broad distribution, using their largest aircraft. Carriers' executives say vaccinations will help air travel demand recover as passenger traffic hovers around a third of last year's levels.

—Leslie Josephs

London to enter top tier of restrictions as UK identifies new Covid variant

A shopper wearing a face mask in Regent Street, London, after the second national lockdown ended and England has a strengthened tiered system of coronavirus restrictions.
Victoria Jones - PA Images | PA Images | Getty Images
A shopper wearing a face mask in Regent Street, London, after the second national lockdown ended and England has a strengthened tiered system of coronavirus restrictions.

London will enter England's toughest tier of coronavirus restrictions Wednesday after the U.K. government identified a new variant of the virus that may be linked with the faster spread of cases in southern parts of the country.

Speaking in the U.K. Parliament on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said initial analysis suggests the new coronavirus variant "is growing faster than the existing variants" and that, so far, 1,000 cases of that variant have been identified in England.

Hancock said similar variants of the coronavirus had been identified in other countries in recent months and U.K. health authorities had notified the World Health Organization. Public health experts would continue to analyze the newly-identified variant of the virus in the U.K., Hancock said.

Ryan Browne, Sam Meredith

Congress rushes to pass Covid relief this week

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference after the Republicans' weekly senate luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 8, 2020.
Sarah Silbiger | Reuters
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference after the Republicans' weekly senate luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 8, 2020.

Congress aims to piece together a Covid relief bill and pass it before the end of the week.

Lawmakers still have big disputes to settle before they can send help to struggling Americans. They have to act before later this month, when millions of people will lose unemployment insurance or face the threat of eviction.

A bipartisan group plans to release its $908 billion aid legislation on Monday. The measure includes new small business aid, provisions to boost unemployment insurance and funding to streamline the Covid-19 vaccine distribution effort, among other provisions.

Two issues — state and local government aid and liability protections for businesses — still divide lawmakers as they try to strike an agreement. The bipartisan group will introduce two bills in the Senate. One includes proposals for those two sticking points, and the other contains the remaining relief provisions.

It's not just coronavirus aid where Congress needs to find common ground. Lawmakers also have to pass a spending bill by Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

—Jacob Pramuk

Pfizer CEO says he won't 'cut the line' to get a vaccine shot

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said he hasn't received his company's Covid-19 vaccine dose yet, saying that he and other executives will not "cut the line."

His comments come as U.S. officials begin the herculean and complex effort of distributing the scarce doses of the vaccine to hundreds of distribution sites across the country. There are limited doses available and as such, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended states prioritize health-care workers and long-term care residents for initial distribution.

While Bourla's company developed the vaccine, he is not a frontline health-care worker himself. Bourla said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box" that he's also 59 and in relatively good health, so it's not entirely appropriate for him to receive the vaccine before other people who need it more. Bourla said it might help increase the public's willingness to receive the shot if he was vaccinated on camera, citing Pfizer's internal research. But he emphasized that "none of the executives and board members will cut the line."

—Will Feuer

United Airlines forecasts higher cash burn as bookings ease

A United Airlines Boeing 737-800 and United Airlines A320 Airbus on seen approach to San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco.
Louis Nastro | Reuters
A United Airlines Boeing 737-800 and United Airlines A320 Airbus on seen approach to San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco.

United Airlines is the latest airline to warn that bookings have slowed lately, a trend that will further dent revenue and contribute to higher-than-expected cash burn.

The airline late Friday said its fourth-quarter sales will likely be down nearly 70% from a year ago, down from a projection in November of a 67% drop, while daily average cash burn in the last three months of the year is on track to be between $34 million to $36 million, including $10 million a day for debt and severance payments. The carrier last month estimated cash burn of $25 million to $30 million a day.

The Chicago-based airline, however, said it was optimistic about a recovery in 2021 thanks to the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

—Leslie Josephs

Biden health advisor says Americans can trust Pfizer vaccine is safe

Dr. Julie Morita, a health advisor to President-elect Joe Biden, told CNBC that Americans should trust the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech.

"We know that this process that has been used by the U.S. to evaluate and to approve the vaccine for emergency use was robust. It was science-based, and it was transparent," Morita said on "Squawk Box."

The executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on public health, said the U.S. public should understand that the vaccines are "safe, that they're effective, and the process was not influenced by politics."

"Vaccines don't stop pandemics. Making sure that people are vaccinated is what can stop this pandemic," she added.

Kevin Stankiewicz

Pfizer negotiating with U.S. for an additional 100 million vaccine doses, CEO says

Pfizer is negotiating with the U.S. government to provide an additional 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses next year, CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC.

Pfizer and the U.S. are working out details on timing, Bourla told "Squawk Box." The company could provide many of those doses in the third quarter of 2021, but the U.S. government is pushing for it in the second quarter, he said.

"We are working very collaboratively to try to find a solution and be able to allocate those 100 million [doses] in the second quarter if possible or a lot of them," Bourla said, adding the company has not signed an agreement with the U.S. yet.

Pfizer already has a deal with the U.S. government to supply 100 million doses of the vaccine as part of the Trump administration's vaccine program Operation Warp Speed. Under the agreement, Americans will receive the vaccine for free.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Critical care nurse gets New York's first Pfizer vaccine dose

New York's Northwell Health administered the state's first Pfizer vaccine dose just before 9:30 a.m. ET. The milestone was broadcast live during Gov. Andrew Cuomo's press briefing.

Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center received the first shot, prompting applause from onlookers.

"This vaccine is exciting, because I believe this is the weapon that will end the war," Cuomo said. "It's the beginning of the last chapter of the book, but now we just have to do it. The vaccine doesn't work if it's in the vile."

—Sara Salinas

How UPS is shipping the Pfizer Covid vaccine around the U.S.

Google delays return to office and eyes a ‘flexible work week,’ report says

Alphabet's Google will allow employees to work from home until September 2021, the New York Times reports, extending a return to the office by a few months.

The company is also considering a "flexible workweek" once it's safe to return, CEO Sundar Pichai told the company's staff in an email on Sunday, according to the report. The plan would require Google employees to work from the office at least three days a week.

—Sara Salinas

Read CNBC's previous live coverage here:

Coronavirus updates: Senior U.S. government officials among first to get vaccines

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