The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Jessie Yeung, Kara Fox, Kareem Khadder, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:06 PM ET, Mon March 1, 2021
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3:53 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Senate Majority Leader says chamber will take up Covid-19 relief "this week" 

From CNN's Ali Zaslav and Lauren Fox

Senate TV
Senate TV

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that “this week” the Senate will take up the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

“I expect a hardy debate and some late nights, but the American people sent us here with a job to do,” Schumer said in a floor speech on Monday. “To help the country through his moment of extraordinary challenge. To end through action the greatest health crisis our country has faced in a century, and that’s just what we’re going to do.”

Some context: The House passed their own version of the Covid relief bill early Saturday morning. If the Senate passes their version of the bill by the end of the week, that gives the House time to re-pass the new version in their own chamber.

It also gives President Biden time to sign it and gives states an opportunity to readjust their unemployment benefits with the increased benefit. Biden and Democrats are rushing to meet their deadline of having enacted the bill by March 14 when a weekly federal enhancement in benefits is scheduled to expire.

3:28 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Here's how California lawmakers plan to get most kids back into classrooms

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Stools stacked on desks inside an empty classroom at Collins Elementary School in Pinole, California, on December 30, 2020.
Stools stacked on desks inside an empty classroom at Collins Elementary School in Pinole, California, on December 30, 2020. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images/FILE

Lawmakers have reached an agreement to return most California students to classrooms by the end March.

The agreement combines proposals from Gov. Gavin Newsom and from California’s legislature and will provide up to $6.6 billion to return schools to in-person learning.

Of that, $2 billion will be made available to those schools that bring students back by March 30.

Schools will be eligible for their part of the $2 billion incentive once they resume classes for at least those students in transitional kindergarten through second grade. 

The rest of the funding, $4.6 billion, is aimed at helping schools make up for lost learning time, or as Newsom calls it, “reimagining the school year” which could include longer school days and/or summer school. 

Ultimately, the reopening decisions lay with the superintendents of each district, not the state. The funding, which is mainly earmarked for personal protective equipment, improved ventilation, and other safety protocols, may well provide the incentive districts need.

Some teachers unions, including United Teacher Los Angeles (UTLA), which represents educators in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), have balked at resuming classes until teachers have the chance to be vaccinated.

Starting today, the pool of those eligible to receive a vaccine in Los Angeles has expanded to include educators.

LAUSD, the nation’s second largest district, has secured 25,000 vaccine doses for teachers and staff, which will be initially focused on inoculating those already working at school sites, preschool, and elementary teachers, according to Superintendent Austin Beutner.

In the meantime, UTLA’s membership is voting today on whether they will agree to return before staff is provided with full access to vaccinations and safety conditions are in place.

The agreement specifies that districts can resume class regardless of whether the unions sign off.

2:52 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Texas FEMA sites expected to receive 24,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses today

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

The three Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccination sites in Texas are expected to receive 24,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday, according to Lara Anton, a press officer for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

It’s not yet clear if the doses will be administered on Tuesday.

“The providers will decide how to use them but are required to stay within the state’s current vaccine allocation priorities of health care workers, long term care facility residents and staff, people 65 years and older, and those over 16 with a chronic medical condition that puts them at higher risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19,” Anton said in an email.

More than 200,000 Johnson & Johnson doses are expected be available to Texas for next week’s allocation, Anton said.

Of the 3.9 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine being distributed by the federal government, the Association of Immunization Managers said Monday that they will be distributed as follows:

  • About 2.8 million doses are headed to state and local territorial public health departments
  • 800,000 doses are being distributed to the federal retail pharmacy program
  • About 70,000 will be released through community vaccination centers run by FEMA
  • About 90,000 doses will be going to Federal Quality Health Centers, community health centers run by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services
2:47 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

The FDA authorizes another at-home Covid-19 antigen test

From CNN's Nadia Kounang

The US Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted emergency use authorization to the Quidel QuickVue At-Home Covid-19 Test.

Dr. Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement that “The FDA continues to prioritize the availability of more at-home testing options in response to the pandemic.”

Here are some key things to know about the at-home test:

  • The test is authorized for at-home use once prescribed by a physician.
  • The nasal swab test can be self-administered by people who are 14 years of age and older, or samples can be collected by an adult in children 8 years of age and older.
  • The test is to be used within the first 6 days that someone is experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.

Rapid antigen tests have been shown to be less accurate than RT-PCR tests, which are considered the “gold-standard” of diagnostic testing.

In a press release, Quidel said the test can return results in as little as 10 minutes, and that positive test results match PCR tests 84.8% of the time; negative test results match PCR results 99.1% of the time.

The sample swabs are placed in a test tube along with a test strip. Colored lines on the test strip indicate a positive or negative test result, similar to a home pregnancy test.

In a separate news release Monday, the National Institutes of Health announced it is evaluating the use of Quidel’s QuickVue test with a smartphone app. The agency says it has enrolled more than 200 participants in the study, which requires them to use the test daily for two weeks.

The NIH says that as at-home tests become more widely available, it believes companion apps will play a role in tracking symptoms, administering tests and reporting results to public health authorities and health care providers.

“Understanding how individuals interact with these apps and where they find value in them will inform future efforts to advance at-home COVID-19 testing,” the NIH said in a statement.

 

2:36 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

US military has administered over 1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

The US military has administered 1,144,697 doses out of 1,275,925 doses delivered to the military so far. At least 735,000 of those are initial doses, 409,000 are second doses, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said. 

The US military expects to get doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine delivered to them in “the next week or so,” now that it has been approved by the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization, Kirby said.

Kirby acknowledged that the Secretary is aware of vaccine hesitancy in some pockets of the military, particularly “cultural and community concerns,” he said.

"It’s a personal decision, but it’s also a decision, and this is what he wants service members to remember, that it’s a decision that you’re making also for your teammates, and for your unit readiness, so that is very much on his mind,” Kirby said.

Right now, the Pentagon has not decided whether or not to make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory when it does receive full authorization from the FDA. The Pentagon cannot make the vaccine mandatory currently because it has been authorized under emergency use by the FDA.

“These are still under emergency authorization, and so right now, they are not mandatory. Obviously, we’re thinking about what happens when they become FDA approved,” Kirby said.

2:27 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Nearly 77 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in US, according to CDC data

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

A person receives a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in Inglewood, California, on February 26.
A person receives a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in Inglewood, California, on February 26. Eric Thayer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Nearly 77 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC reported that 76,899,987 total doses have been administered – about 80% of the 96,402,490 doses delivered.

That’s about 1.7 million more administered doses reported since yesterday, for a seven-day average of more than 1.8 million doses per day.

More than 15% of the population – about 50.7 million people – have now received at least one dose of vaccine. Nearly 8% of the population – nearly 25.5 million people – have been fully vaccinated with both shots, CDC data shows.

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

2:05 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Senate Democratic leaders want members to hold firm against "lethal" GOP amendments on Covid relief bill

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett

 Al Drago/Getty Images
Al Drago/Getty Images

Senate Democratic leaders are urging their caucus to stick together and fend off GOP amendments that could alter key elements of the $1.9 trillion relief plan when it heads to the floor later this week, a plea aimed at keeping together a fragile Democratic coalition in order to send the bill to President Biden's desk by mid-March.

Senators are walking into a legislative minefield later this week since the relief bill is being considered under budget reconciliation rules that allow a free-flowing amendment process, meaning senators can force votes on as many amendments as they like. That means if two Democrats break ranks, they could amend the bill with the backing of 49 Republicans.

But Democratic leaders want their caucus to hold the line against amendments that could alter the core of the bill and ultimately derail the chances of getting the sweeping measure out of both chambers by March 14 — when jobless benefits are set to expire for millions of Americans.

Asked if he wanted his caucus to hold the line against GOP amendments, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN: "Certainly [against] any amendments that we think will be disruptive of the reconciliation process — maybe more."

Durbin added of the GOP amendments: "There are some that could be lethal. So we have to take it very seriously.”

It's unclear which amendments could peel away Democratic support, but party leaders and the White House have their eyes in particular on a handful of their more centrist members, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Angus King of Maine.

Whether there could be some changes around the margins of the bill remain to be seen. And already the Senate is poised to make one major change: Scrapping the $15 federal minimum wage included in the House-passed bill since it was ruled by the Senate's parliamentarian as outside the scope of the chamber's rules of budget reconciliation.

Some House liberals want the presiding officer of the Senate, potentially Vice President Kamala Harris, to simply ignore the parliamentarian's ruling and keep the minimum wage in the bill.

But Durbin threw cold water on that idea, which is also opposed by a number of senators in both parties and by the White House.

"I don't think that's going to work," Durbin said. "I hope we think very seriously about dealing with the minimum wage in a different venue."

Yet pursuing the wage hike outside of budget reconciliation would require 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster, something highly unlikely to succeed.

Given the divisions within the Senate Democratic Caucus over the $15 hourly wage mandate, Durbin conceded that the parliamentarian's decision made passage of the overall bill "less complicating," while calling the ruling "disappointing."

1:22 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

White House says Biden is not considering sharing Covid-19 vaccine supply with Mexico

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that President Joe Biden is not considering sharing part of the US coronavirus vaccine supply with Mexico.

On Sunday, CNN reported that Obrador was expected to ask Biden to share some of the US Covid-19 vaccine supply, according to a Mexican government official briefed on plans for the conversation. 

Ahead of a virtual bilateral meeting between Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Monday afternoon, Psaki was asked whether Biden is considering sharing part of the supply with the country. 

“No,” Psaki responded during a press briefing. “The President has made clear that he is focused on ensuring that vaccines are accessible to every American. That is our focus.”

The press secretary said the Biden administration is focused on economic recovery and ensuring that Mexico and Canada are safe enough to open their borders to the US.

“(T)he administration's focus is on ensuring that every American is vaccinated. And once we accomplish that objective, we're happy to discuss further steps beyond that,” Psaki added.

1:16 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Go There: CNN answers your vaccine questions as Johnson & Johnson's single-dose shot rolls out

Johnson & Johnson's single-dose coronavirus vaccine is now the third Covid-19 shot approved for use in the US, with some 3.9 million doses to be distributed as early as Tuesday.

CNN's Pete Muntean was live at a UPS facility in Kentucky as the new vaccine rolls out, answering your questions.

Watch more: