February 23 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Eoin McSweeney and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 2:14 AM ET, Wed February 24, 2021
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4:16 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Republicans begin new push against Biden's Covid-19 relief plan 

From CNN's Manu Raju and Clare Foran

Sen. John Thune speaks during a news conference in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, February 23.
Sen. John Thune speaks during a news conference in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, February 23. Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/AP Images

Republican leaders in both chambers are maneuvering to keep all of their members in line against the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan, a move that would deny President Biden a bipartisan victory and one that could scuttle the bill in the Senate if any Democrat breaks ranks. 

But the move amounts to a political risk for Republicans with polls showing clear majorities of Americans supporting an emergency rescue package and with the economy still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.  

So Republicans now plan to begin an urgent public relations push to argue that the bill is bloated, poorly targeted and contains a hodge-podge of measures aimed at pleasing the Democratic base – a message that party leaders discussed with their members at a private GOP lunch on Tuesday and that they plan to echo in the days ahead, attendees say. 

"If the Democrats continue down the path they're on and that is to not make any attempt to try and get Republican input or ideas, it makes it hard for any of our members, even those that might be inclined to do so to vote for it, to vote for anything," Senate Minority Whip John Thune told CNN. "So, if it's in its current contours, it's hard to see very many, if any, Republicans being for it, especially given the way the Democrats have approached it." 

At the lunch on Tuesday, GOP senators talked at length about the Democrats’ bill, with attendees emerging criticizing it in sharp terms. They discussed their strategy for putting Democrats in a difficult political spot when amendment votes happen next week in the Senate, while also putting forward some middle-of-the-road amendments that could attract some Democratic support, according to attendees. 

And afterward, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the Democrats’ plan as “totally partisan,” while acknowledging that his party had work to do on its messaging in the face of public support for the Biden plan.  

“I’m sure everybody would love to get a check,” McConnell said, referring to the checks of up to $1,400 for certain individuals in the proposal. “But they haven’t yet learned about what else is in it and part of our job as the substantial minority, remember we’re in a 50-50 Senate here, is to make sure the American people fully understand what’s being proposed."

Democrats, however, argue that they have a mandate after winning the White House and the Senate and are taking urgently needed action to deliver aid to an American public suffering under the devastating toll of the ongoing pandemic. They have insisted they are willing to work with Republicans but will not water down the plan — a lesson they say they learned from then-President Barack Obama's first stimulus plan in 2009.  

CNN's Olanma Mang, Ted Barrett and Lauren Fox contributed reporting to this post.

4:08 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

White House says 2 million doses of J&J vaccine should be ready next week, pending authorization

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

A  dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for a clinical trial on December 15, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado.
A dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for a clinical trial on December 15, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images/FILE

President Biden's coronavirus advisers told governors today that they believe an estimated two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available next week pending emergency use authorization, according to a source familiar with the conversation. 

A White House official confirmed the conversation and said, "If an EUA is issued, we anticipate jurisdictions will get an allocation of around 2 million doses of J&J supply next week."

Richard Nettles, a Johnson & Johnson executive, told a House panel earlier Tuesday that they expect to ship nearly four million doses upon authorization. It's not clear why the numbers are different.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was designed to be a one dose shot, as opposed to the two doses required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

3:09 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Biden indicates masks will be sent directly to Americans

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden indicated the White House will move to send masks directly to the American people as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, something that was originally proposed by health officials during the Trump administration but blocked by the former President.

“We're probably going to be sending out an awful lot of mask around the country very shortly, millions of them,” Biden said during a roundtable event with Black frontline workers. He said that the issue of masks was turned into a political issue, which cost “an awful lot of lives.”

"We could have saved literally an awful lot of lives if people had listened. We turned wearing masks into a political statement. If you were for this thing, you wore it, if we were for somebody else, you didn't wear it, when in fact, it's just plain basic science,” Biden said.

Earlier this month, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said that the Biden administration is hoping to resurrect a proposal from the Trump administration send masks directly to Americans.

"This was an idea that really came up last year in the Trump administration — the public health agencies recommended it, President Trump vetoed it for some reason," Klain told NBC's Lester Holt on Feb. 4. "We want to get this back on track. I hope in the next few days, or next week, we may be able to announce some progress on this.”

The US Postal Service had planned to distribute 650 million face coverings for the Trump administration last April, according to internal documents reviewed by CNN in September. A senior administration official told The Washington Post at the time that the plan was scrapped by the White House as some advisers were worried that it could create "concern or panic."

CNN has reached out to the White House to see if there are any additional details on this after the President’s remarks on Tuesday.

2:07 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

About 65 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the US

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

People drive through a tent outside Coors Field as they receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination event on February 20 in Denver, Colorado.
People drive through a tent outside Coors Field as they receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination event on February 20 in Denver, Colorado. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

More than 65 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC reported that 65,032,083 total doses have been administered, about 79% of the 82,114,370 doses delivered.

That’s only about 850,000 more administered doses reported since yesterday, for a seven-day average of about 1.4 million doses per day. 

About 44.5 million people have now received at least one dose of vaccine and about 19.9 million people have been fully vaccinated with both shots, CDC data shows.

Note: Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported.

1:55 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Ireland's coronavirus lockdown will remain in place until at least April 5

From CNN's Emmet Lyons and Lauren Kent

A man walks in Belfast, Ireland, on February 15.
A man walks in Belfast, Ireland, on February 15. Liam McBurney/PA Images/Getty Images

Ireland's coronavirus lockdown will remain in place until April 5, the government's press office said in a statement released Tuesday.

A further review of the restrictions will be conducted on April 5, and the government will consider easing limits that currently restrict movement to within three miles of people's homes, as well as consider easing some restrictions on outdoor activities and meeting other households.

The country will also begin a staggered return to in-school education beginning on March 1, according to the statement. The country's aim is for all classes to return after the Easter break.

Ireland also plans to resume non-Covid-related health services in the coming weeks and expand the reopening of childcare.

"It is critically important that we do not let our guard down. We are carefully and gradually reopening schools because we need to get our children back into education. This will represent a major relief for both pupils and hard-pressed parents," said Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin in a Tuesday address. "When we open things, we want them to stay open."

Martin added that the country has made "steady progress" on vaccinations, with more than 350,000 vaccine doses already administered. He said the government plans to give nearly half of people over 18 their first vaccine dose by the end of April, and 82% of adults their first dose by the end of June. 

"We want to protect as many people as possible in the coming months, until we achieve a critical mass of vaccinations," Martin said. "That is why we will continue to proceed carefully and cautiously, keeping the situation under constant review and being informed at all stages by public health advice."

1:19 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

It is possible one dose of coronavirus vaccine might be enough for some, NIH director says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Pharmacist Jef Bratberg draws the Moderna Vaccine into syringes at Central Falls High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island, on February 13.
Pharmacist Jef Bratberg draws the Moderna Vaccine into syringes at Central Falls High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island, on February 13. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

It’s possible a single dose of coronavirus vaccine might be enough for people who have already been infected, but it will take more research to show that, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, wrote in a blog post Tuesday

“While much more research is needed—and I am definitely not suggesting a change in the current recommendations right now—the results raise the possibility that one dose might be enough for someone who’s been infected with SARS-CoV-2 and already generated antibodies against the virus,” Collins wrote.

Collins referenced a recent preprint on a small NIH-funded study, which looked at 109 people who had already received a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and found that for 41 people who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies before their first shot, immune response to the first dose was “equal to, or in some cases better” than the response to the second dose in people without previous infection.

“If other studies support these results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration might decide to consider whether one dose is enough for people who’ve had a prior COVID-19 infection. Such a policy is already under consideration in France and, if implemented, would help to extend vaccine supply and get more people vaccinated sooner,” wrote Collins. “But any serious consideration of this option will require more data. It will also be up to the expert advisors at FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to decide.”

Collins said that for now, the most important thing for everyone to do is to continue to follow the three W’s – wear a mask, wash hands and watch distance, “and roll up our sleeves for the vaccine as soon as it’s available to us.”

1:21 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Scotland to return to "levels" system of Covid restrictions in April

From CNN’s Chloe Adams

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes a statement on the coronavirus restrictions at the Scottish Parliament on February 23 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes a statement on the coronavirus restrictions at the Scottish Parliament on February 23 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Russell Cheyne/Pool/Getty Images

Scotland will begin a phased lifting of its coronavirus lockdown, starting with the lifting of the stay at home order on April 5.

Weeks later the country will move back to a "levels system" of restrictions, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Sturgeon said she was confident that the indicative timetable was reasonable and would see the economy start to substantially reopen with further outlines to be published in a Scottish Government document by mid-March. 

“The last thing I want to be doing at any point this year is going backwards. This must be firm and sustainable, and that is what I believe we are putting in place,” Sturgeon said.

The youngest of Scotland’s school pupils returned to classrooms this week. The next phase of school returns will take place on March 15 and will include years four to seven and secondary schools pupils.

At this stage, the outdoor mixing of households rules will allow four people from two households to mix, with these rules changing on April 5 to include six people.

Communal worship will also return, along with essential retail from April 5.

Scotland will then move back to "level three" restrictions on April 26. 

Travel restrictions are likely to remain for the time being, with international travel looking unlikely. 

“One of our biggest risks right now are new variants that start to undermine the vaccine efficacy, that would be a terrible development so that's why we have to be really careful to guard against importation of new variants, hence the need for travel restrictions.” Sturgeon said. “The more that we accept some restriction on an ability to travel overseas, the greater normality we can get back domestically and get that back quicker than we might otherwise be able to do.”

12:55 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

White House won't say whether Biden would sign a Covid-19 relief bill with an $11 minimum wage

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House on February 23 in Washington, DC.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House on February 23 in Washington, DC. Evan Vucci/AP

White House press secretary Jen Psaki would not say whether President Biden would sign a coronavirus relief bill where the minimum wage is increased to $11 an hour as opposed to the $15 an hour that the President proposed.

Asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins if Biden would sign a bill where the minimum wage is increased to $11 an hour, something Sen. Joe Manchin is looking at doing via an amendment to the bill, Psaki punted, saying Biden put forward the $15 an hour number because that is what he supports.

“The President proposed $15 because that’s what he feels is right for the American worker, American workers I should say, and the men and women who are working hard, just trying to make ends meet and that’s why that number was in his package,” Psaki said at Tuesday’s White House press briefing.

Psaki said if the coronavirus relief bill passes the House, which is expected this weekend, “there’ll be an opportunity Sen. Manchin and others to put forward ideas and proposals and we’ll see where that process lands but he proposed the $15 increase for a reason and he stands by it.”

Asked if Biden would consider the lesser minimum wage increase as a possible point of compromise, Psaki said the White House will “see where it goes” after the bill works its way through the Senate reconciliation process.

Manchin said that he would propose the $11 minimum wage amendment if the Senate parliamentarian finds the wage hike within the rules of the budget process that Democrats are employing to advance the covid relief package without Republican support. He would need 51 votes to succeed.

"I would amend it to $11," he said Monday. "$11 basically works for Americans and, we can do $11 in two years and be in a better position than they're going to be with $15 in five years."

12:41 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

New York state has fully vaccinated 1.18 million people, governor says

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

Elizabeth Griffin, 86, is given her first dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine by Anya Harris at Red Hook Neighborhood Senior Center on February 22 in New York City.
Elizabeth Griffin, 86, is given her first dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine by Anya Harris at Red Hook Neighborhood Senior Center on February 22 in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

New York state has administered more than 2.25 million first doses – 91% of the first doses it received from the federal government, according to the governor of New York.

More than 1.18 million New Yorkers have been fully vaccinated, according to state data. 

Week 10 allocations, which were delayed due to weather, continue to arrive as of Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said. 

"Supply from the federal government is increasing steadily every week, but the demand still far outweighs the supply,” Cuomo said in a press release.

He reminded residents that beginning this week, the “largest-yet” vaccination sites in Brooklyn and Queens will each be able to vaccinate 3,000 New Yorkers daily.