Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – August 2020 # 13

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  • Senate Republicans plan to introduce their “skinny” version of coronavirus relief legislation as early as Tuesday. The 169-page draft bill provides US$300 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits through 27 Dec. and taps an estimated US$158 billion more into the popular small-business loan program that lapsed 8 August. It includes liability protections to businesses, schools, and health care professionals. The proposal appropriates US US$105 billion for k-12 schools, colleges, and universities; US$29 billion for COVID-19 vaccine and drug development and distribution; and US$16 billion for testing and contact tracing. Republicans included a provision to turn a US$10 billion loan to the USPS into a grant if the agency’s financial condition deteriorates to counter the Democratic U.S. Postal Services legislation they plan to vote on Saturday.
  • Nearly 100 Democrats have signed a letter urging a vote Saturday on an enhanced unemployment plan that seeks to tie payments to a series of triggers.
  • Speaker Pelosi applauded Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s move to suspend some of the controversial changes at the USPS. “They felt the heat and that’s what we were trying to do, to make it too hot for them to handle,” Pelosi told POLITICO. Democrats say they want postal service operations fully restored and still plan to vote on their USPS legislation on Saturday. House Democrats unveiled the legislation Wednesday which includes US$25 billion in funding for the USPS, reverses service and operational changes implemented earlier this year, and requires first-class status for election and ballot mail to ensure priority delivery.
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) sent a letter to the GOP conference accusing Pelosi and Democrats of fabricating the postal crisis for political purposes while providing talking points for debate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said it is unlikely that the Senate would pass a standalone USPS bill but suggested that the House passage of their measure could open up talks about other virus-related relief provisions. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump expressed his frustration with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the timing of the House and Senate hearings on the Postal Service before the Republican convention in a tweet Wednesday.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has put a hold on emergency authorization for blood plasma as a Covid-19 treatment. Top health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. H. Clifford Lane, were concerned that the data wasn’t strong enough for emergency approval.
  • American and United Airlines have said they may reduce or stop service to small and medium-sized cities when a provision in the CARES Act expires 30 September. The Act included US$25 billion in aid to keep airline employees on payroll and required airlines accepting that money to maintain a minimum level of service in the communities where they flew before the pandemic. Now, with air travel rebounding but still significantly lower than last year, labor unions and airlines alike are fighting for Congress to extend that aid through Mar. 31, 2021.
  • House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and two subcommittee chairwomen, Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) sent a letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting that the nonpartisan, independent agency investigate the way the Trump administration is collecting coronavirus information. The lawmakers are concerned that the abrupt changes in hospitals requiring requirements are generating flawed data and “undermine the nation’s COVID-19 response.”

In the News

  • Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) announced that 13 states would join Washington in suing DeJoy for allegedly acting “outside of his authority to implement changes to the postal system, and ... not follow[ing] the proper procedures under federal law.” Separately, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) filed a separate suit Tuesday along similar lines, joined by California.
  • The percentage of COVID-19 tests returning positive results has hit a record low in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said Wednesday, coming in at 0.24 percent. The World Health Organization recommends a positivity rate of no more than 5 percent before communities safely reopen. Rates in New York City and New York state are among the lowest in the nation. According to Johns Hopkins University, 19 states have test positivity rates of 5 percent or lower, while 33 do not.
  • Multiple midshipmen returning to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD have tested positive for COVID-19, the Navy confirmed on Monday. Naval Academy spokesperson Cdr. Alana Garas told The Hill that about 2 percent of midshipmen in the Academy’s 4,000-person-strong main dormitory are currently COVID-19 positive. Naval Academy leadership earlier this month announced that midshipmen would be brought back for the fall semester, starting Wednesday, for a combination of in-person and online classes, though in-person classes will be at half capacity.
  • In a CNN poll released Wednesday, 58 percent of Americans say they disapprove of the way President Donald Trump has responded to the COVID-19 outbreak, a record high in CNN’s surveys. Fifty-two percent say they are not comfortable returning to their normal pre-pandemic lives with the current levels of new infections, and 57 percent say schools in their area should not open for in-person learning. CNN conducted the survey of 1,108 U.S. adults from 12 -15 August.
  • Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin (R) wants to require a positive COVID-19 test if a voter wants to vote absentee. Louisiana is one of seven states that will require an excuse to vote by mail this year. A voter would need to test positive during the weeklong period between the end of early voting and Election Day in order to invoke state law’s hospitalization excuse for mail-in voting. The proposal would exclude thousands from mail-in voting as Louisiana has experienced lags in testing and African Americans account for 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the state.
  • During a weekly televised address on Wednesday, Pope Francis warned against the possibility of wealthier people being prioritized for coronavirus vaccines, adding, “[it] would be sad if this vaccine were to become the property of this nation or another, rather than universal and for all.” The pontiff noted that while the coronavirus could strike anyone, it “found in its path, devastating, great inequalities and discrimination.”
  • Moderna’s Phase 3 vaccine trial is progressing at a good speed, but officials are still “very concerned” and make clear that more ethnic minorities are required to enroll for the trials to succeed, officials tell CNN. Black and Latino people account for more than 50 percent of Covid-19 cases but make up only 15 percent of participants in new trials, which could result in a delay in a vaccine being rolled out.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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