Live Updates

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

Updated 8:06 PM EST, Mon March 1, 2021
US coronavirus numbers coming down, but not enough

What you need to know

  • Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine, the third Covid-19 shot authorized for use in the US, started to be distributed across the country.
  • The US House passed a version of the Covid-19 stimulus bill, a key part of President Biden’s agenda to combat the pandemic’s economic impacts. It now moves to the Senate.
  • New Zealand imposed a seven-day lockdown in its most populous city, Auckland, on Sunday after two local cases of unknown origin were detected.

Our live coverage has ended for the day. Follow the latest on the pandemic here.

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NIH director fears lingering symptoms of Covid-19 infection could become a chronic illness for some

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/FILE
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health

For some people, symptoms that persist months after getting sick with Covid-19 could become a chronic illness, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Monday.

“I fear that some people who have had these effects who are already three or four months out may not be on a path to get better in a few more months, and this could be something that becomes a chronic illness,” Collins said during an NBC Nightly News interview.

“That is cruel. That is just one more heartbreak that we didn’t see coming,” he said. “I promise you we are all in on this. There will be no stones left unturned. We’re going to figure it out.”

NIH recently launched an initiative aimed at better understanding the long-term consequences of Covid-19 and how to help the people who experience them.

“When you consider we know 28 million people in the United States have had Covid, if even 1% of them have chronic long-term consequences, that’s a whole lot of people, and we need to find out everything we can about how to help them,” Collins said.

“If any organization on the planet can figure this out, it’s NIH,” he added.

Democrats are racing to pass Biden's Covid-19 relief bill. Here's where things stand in Congress. 

The Senate could move as soon as this week to pass their own version of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill.

That plan will, of course, look a little different than the House bill as it won’t include the $15 an hour minimum wage. It also is not going to include the so-called Plan B drafted by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden that would have penalized corporations that didn’t increase wages on their own. That plan faced pushback in the Democratic caucus.

Democrats in the House and Senate are racing to enact a Covid relief bill by March 14, when key expanded unemployment benefits expire.

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

“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.”

Here’s a look at the legislation’s next steps:

  • Schumer, a Democrat from New York, will bring the package to the floor as soon as Wednesday.
  • That version will include changes suggested by the parliamentarian (so no minimum wage increase).
  • That begins 20 hours of debate.
  • At the end of those 20 hours, the Senate will begin their second vote-a-rama. Given the nature of those marathon votes, we cannot predict exactly when final passage will be, but if past is prologue, look to early Friday morning. The last vote-a-rama ended at 5 a.m. ET.

This plan is subject to change, but this is what we are looking at for timing.

Read more about the latest on the Covid relief bill here.

Biden and Senate Democrats discussed “targeting” Covid-19 relief package in variety of ways

President Biden and Senate Democrats talked about “targeting” the Covid relief package today but not reducing the overall price tag of the $1.9 trillion plan, according to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester who attended the virtual meeting Monday on the legislation’s next steps.

The House passed a version of the Covid-19 stimulus bill early Saturday morning, and it is now set to move to the Senate.

Tester said that Biden was mainly in listening mode as Democrats proposed certain changes that could be made through the amendment process.

Tester ultimately predicted there would be “modest” changes made.

One of the items moderate Democrats are looking at to “target” in the coronavirus relief bill is limiting federal unemployment benefits from $400 a week to $300 in an effort to save money and extend the program longer.

The House bill’s federal unemployment program runs through August, but Democratic moderates are arguing the benefit could go longer if the weekly benefit was less. The goal would be to run it to the end of the year, according to one aide familiar with the discussions.

That could face pushback from the rest of the caucus. It’s still unknown on whether it’s really an option, but it’s a sign of moderates trying to reshape pieces of this bill.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who chairs the Finance Committee, also told CNN that he’s pushing to include in the bill an extension of jobless benefits for an additional month so they can expire in September rather than in August when senators and House members are on their summer recess.

And as CNN’s Ryan Nobles reported earlier, more money for broadband is also something Democrats are pushing for.

Covid-19 has created momentum for 200 casinos to go smoke-free, CDC official says

More than 200 commercial and tribal casinos have reopened smoke free during the pandemic, including every casino in New Jersey, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday.

Before Covid-19, this kind of public health momentum in casinos would not have been possible, Brian King of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health said during the CDC’s weekly partner call.

All casinos in New Jersey, which includes Atlantic City, have adopted smoke-free policies, King said.

“Seeing that implementation of a broad public health policy in this environment at the state level of a major hub for gambling and casinos is very important,” King said. “It’s definitely a public health win and shows an added benefit of not only protecting workers but also patrons.”

The benefits of smoke-free policies go beyond reducing secondhand smoke exposure, which has been shown to increase risk of stroke, lung cancer and heart attack in adults. Smoke-free policies also encourage more people to stop smoking and keep people from starting at all, King said.

The question remains if these casinos will remain smoke-free when other restrictions ease and more people become vaccinated.

“If all these casinos remain smoke free even post Covid-19, this could have an immeasurable in terms of not only protecting the public who attend these venues, but also workers who are working eight hours or more per day in these environments” King said.

Covid-19 testing in the US cut by a quarter since peak in mid-January, data shows

A pop-up Covid-19 testing site is shown in a neighborhood among those that have seen some of the highest number of city deaths on February 23, in the Queens borough of New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A pop-up Covid-19 testing site is shown in a neighborhood among those that have seen some of the highest number of city deaths on February 23, in the Queens borough of New York City.

The US has recorded an average of about 1.5 million Covid-19 tests per day over the past week, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.

That’s about 26% fewer than the average in mid-January, when the US hit a peak seven-day average of more than 2 million tests reported on Jan. 15.

The decline in new tests reported nationally had been rather consistent since hitting that peak. But over the past seven days, the number of new tests reported has started to tick back up.

The average of about 1.5 million tests per day over the past week is a 14% increase over the average of about 1.3 million tests per day the week before.

Even as case rates drop, experts have stressed the importance of testing as a way to stay ahead of outbreaks, particularly with the new variants in the mix.

Contract tracing, which requires sufficient testing, is also one of five key mitigation strategies outlined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in school reopening guidance.

More on the testing data: Reported test counts are estimates. Also, states do not all report tests consistently. Some include both viral (PCR) and antigen tests, and some report based on the number of people tested as opposed to the number of specimens tested.

France approves use of AstraZeneca vaccine in 65 to 75 year olds with certain health conditions

Syringes used to administer the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, at the office of a general practitioner in Gragnague, France, on February 26.
Fred Scheiber/AFP/Getty Images/FILE
Syringes used to administer the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, at the office of a general practitioner in Gragnague, France, on February 26.

France has extended the upper age limit for use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, now approving use of the vaccine in 65 to 75 year olds with serious health conditions, the country’s health minister announced Monday. 

The decision comes after a previous warning from the government that AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine should only be administered in people under the age of 65, citing a lack of clinical data on its efficacy for older people.

“I can confirm that, from now on, anyone who is 50 years of age and over and who has medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension or a history of cancer can be vaccinated with AstraZeneca,” French Health Minister Olivier Veran said during a televised interview, adding that “for people who are 75 years old and over, it is always the Pfizer or Moderna” vaccine that is administered. 

Speaking to France 2 TV, the health minister said the French National health authority now considers all vaccines available in France, including the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, to “have an effectiveness qualified as ‘remarkable’ in protecting people from the risks of serious forms of coronavirus.” 

While coronavirus restrictions are still in place across the country, Veran also suggested that the government would consider easing measures over the coming weeks. 

“We obviously hope that in four to six weeks, we can have more freedom,” Veran said. 

“We did this last year. Spring is less conducive to the circulation of the virus. We vaccinate, we protect the most vulnerable, we keep our fingers crossed,” he added. 

Two doses of vaccine offer better protection from coronavirus variants, CDC says

Two doses of coronavirus vaccine protect people better against coronavirus variants than just one dose, CDC experts said Monday.

The B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa has the most worrying effects on the ability of vaccines to produce an immune response, the CDC’s Dr. Heather Scobie told a meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

But there are concerns about the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the UK, as well as a variant common in Brazil known as P2.

She said the CDC has reviewed many of the studies – some published, others released as unreviewed pre-prints – on how the variants allow the virus to evade immune responses.