Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, November 2020 # 18

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Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines from Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs practice.

In Washington:

  • On Sunday, White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx warned Americans to “assume that you’re infected” with COVID-19 if you traveled or gathered for Thanksgiving and advised being tested about five to 10 days later. Both Dr. Birx and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, are warning about a “surge upon a surge” before the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, noting that travel restrictions and recommendations are likely to stay in place.
  • A bipartisan group of senators is attempting to restart stalled coronavirus stimulus talks during the lame duck. Most Washington insiders are seeing chances of passing a bill in a lame-duck unlikely given the unwavering positions of the Democratic Leadership and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus. The informal group of senators-- Chris Coons (D-DE), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Warner (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Michael Bennet (D-CO), met over Thanksgiving. The group has been focusing on unemployment insurance, small business aid, and evictions moratoriums expiring at the end of the year.
  • Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force covered the Sunday talk shows to promise a rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines to millions of Americans by year-end. But distribution will have to overcome several hurdles in the health care system and mistrust in the virus, especially in the country’s underserved rural states.
    • U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams “said the federal government hopes to quickly review and approve requests from two drugmakers for emergency approval of their Covid-19 vaccines.”
    • Meanwhile, NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said the government “almost certainly” will be vaccinating first priority populations by the end of December.
    • According to former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, it is “pretty much decided” that residents and staff of care facilities, and health care workers in general, will be the first groups to get access to vaccines.
    • On Monday, Operation Warp Speed director Lt. General Paul A. Ostrowski said that there would be more than 300 million vaccines, enough for all Americans, available by the end of June 2021.
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) returned to the Capitol on Monday after testing positive for the coronavirus earlier this month. Grassley, 87, did not experience symptoms and was cleared by his doctor to return to the Capitol, according to a statement from his office.
  • Hispanic political leaders are banding together to support New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) to be President-elect Joe Biden's Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). In a letter to Biden on Sunday, a majority of Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) members called on Biden to nominate Lujan Grisham. Also said to be under consideration for the HHS post are Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) and former Obama administration Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

In the News:

  • Moderna filed today for an emergency use authorization of its experimental coronavirus vaccine. The biotech company said the vaccine was 94.1 percent effective against COVID-19 and 100 percent effective at preventing severe COVID-19 in an analysis of a stage three trial. If the FDA authorizes the vaccine, the US intends to start vaccinating vulnerable people before the end of 2020.
  • Pope Francis on Thanksgiving Day praised medical workers and criticized groups protesting COVID-19 restrictions in an op-ed published in The New York Times. He called health care workers “the saints next door” and sought to reframe opposition to pandemic restrictions, which protestors have defended as efforts to secure personal freedoms.
  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it screened 1.8 million people at security checkpoints nationwide on Sunday, the most since March 16. That followed nearly 1.1 million passengers on the day before Thanksgiving, despite late-breaking warnings from public health officials to avoid traveling for this year's holiday. But Sunday's total was significantly lower than the end of last year's long holiday weekend when the TSA screened nearly 2.9 million people.
  • Shoppers driven online by the coronavirus pandemic are projected to spend a record-breaking $12.7 billion on Cyber Monday, according to a report by Bloomberg. Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have reportedly all been preparing for weeks, expanding delivering capacity and designating parking spaces for picking up digital orders. But online Black Friday sales fell below projections made by Adobe Analytics, Bloomberg reported. The company estimated $10.3 billion would be spent, but U.S. shoppers ended up spending around $9 billion the day after Thanksgiving.
  • On Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a new series of emergency measures to combat rising hospitalizations and case numbers statewide. The measures include developing plans for staff shortages, emergency field protocols, increased bed capacity, and stopping elective surgeries. “It’s a new phase in the war against Covid,” Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference in Manhattan. “It’s a war in terms of preparation and mobilization.”
  • On Sunday, New York Mayor de Blasio reversed his decision to shut down NY City schools and announced that preschool and elementary schools will reopen for in-person learning in stages starting Dec. 7.

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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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