Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – September 2020 # 12

Hogan Lovells

Hogan Lovells

In Washington

  • House Democrats postponed a planned Tuesday to vote on a bill to keep the government funded through 11 Dec. as talks resume with Republicans and the Trump administration. Congressional leaders hope the delay will allow lawmakers to address some policy differences and move forward with a bipartisan proposal. The two sides are negotiating over aid to farmers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and over free school lunch. House Democratic proposals omit a White House-requested extension of farm aid payments made through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which has a US$30 billion borrowing limit. Republicans meanwhile have balked at extending free or reduced-price school lunches while some schools are remote, a provision that prior coronavirus relief legislation included. The government will shut down on 1 Oct. without a spending agreement.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified Tuesday before the House Financial Services Committee on the Treasury Department’s COVID-19 response. The officials were questioned on why more changes within the central bank couldn’t be made to provide help to struggling businesses, the commercial real estate sector, or city and state governments. Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified that the emergency loans passed in the COVID-19 economic aid bill have worked as intended but called on lawmakers to provide more government spending to sustain the recovery.
  • The FDA announced that stricter standards for the emergency authorization of a potential COVID-19 vaccine making it ”exceedingly difficult” for any vaccine to be approved by election day. The FDA released this information as an effort to boost transparency and improve the eroded public trust in the agency.
  • A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccine advisory committee delayed voting Tuesday on prioritizing the distribution of any coronavirus vaccine until the FDA gives emergency authorization or approval to a shot. At that time, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of outside medical experts who advises the CDC, will hold an emergency meeting with a public comment session and vote on recommendations for using the vaccine, including which populations should have access to it.
  • Nine senators wrote Karen Lynch, Executive Vice President, CVS Health, and President, Aetna Business Unit, about its concerns regarding recent reports of health insurance companies ending comprehensive coverage of COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing requirements. The senators are concerned that financial barriers will discourage or prevent COVID-19 testing because Americans are unsure whether they can afford the costs. The lawmakers asked further clarification on the company’s current coverage policy in a series of questions and requested a response by 30 September.
  • On Tuesday, President Trump blasted China in recorded remarks to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, blaming Beijing for the coronavirus. “As we pursue this bright future, we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China,” Trump said. The president has for months hammered China over its role in the spread of COVID-19, at times questioning if the country intentionally allowed it to spread and blaming Beijing and the World Health Organization for early missteps and a lack of communication while defending his own record in light of recent revelations from journalist Bob Woodward that Trump privately knew the virus was deadly in February while deliberately saying otherwise in public.
  • Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell will head to Capitol Hill this week for three days of testimony in what will likely be his last chance to try to push Congress toward another coronavirus relief bill before Election Day. For months, Powell has told lawmakers that the economy requires significant and quick COVID-19 aid. Without further aid, Powell told reporters last week, the economic damage will “show up in things like evictions and foreclosures and things that will scar and damage the economy.”
  • In a new report announced on 21 Sept., the Government Accountability Office (GAO) condemned the Trump administration's “lack of cogent, clear, and consistent federal guidance” for reopening schools it examines the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. The watchdog group emphasized the “critical” need for consistent federal guidance in helping make “risk-based” decisions on whether to reopen; unclear guidance and messaging could lead to “confusion” and “indecision” for local leaders. GAO provided 16 recommendations to improve the implementation of the CARES Act and COVID-19 response.

In the News

  • Data from Johns Hopkins University confirms that 200,005 Americans have now died from COVID-19. The total number of cases nears 7 million. Globally, there are more than 31 million confirmed cases and a total of 965,893 deaths. Additional models created by the researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation project that the U.S. death toll could reach 378,321 by 1 January, 2021. This number falls when introducing the effects of universal mask-wearing.
  • Global airlines on Tuesday called for pre-departure COVID-19 testing for all international passengers to replace the quarantines they blame for exacerbating the travel slump. Cheap tests that can be administered by non-medical personnel should be rolled out under globally agreed standards, International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General Alexandre de Juniac told reporters. With rapid antigen tests becoming available for as little as US$7 each, De Juniac said, airlines will push for their use to be endorsed by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the U.N. agency that oversees global aviation rules. A global agreement is needed to ensure test results on departure are accepted on arrival, he added.
  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday that the country was at a “perilous turning point.” Johnson reversed the lifting of some lockdown measures in England, telling people to work from home once again if possible. The shift comes just weeks after the Prime Minister urged people to return to the office. He warned that the new measures, which include the early closing of pubs and restaurants, could be in place for up to six months. However, schools and universities will remain open as can businesses that operate in a “COVID compliant way.”
  • Delta Air Lines will delay the effective date for pilot furloughs to 1 November, the company announced in a memo to employees obtained by The Hill. Airlines are prohibited from firing or laying off any employees until 1 Oct. under the terms of the relief funding they received in March. Delta is planning to furlough potentially 220 pilots, according to the memo. Delta has a committee that is still working towards avoiding furloughs all together. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in July that the company had a “real shot” of avoiding layoffs because 20 percent of the workforce voluntarily agreed to retire.
  • On Monday, a group of Hollywood unions announced a deal with major film and TV studios to resume production after many projects were put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic. The Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild, Teamsters, and other unions struck a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. According to the Associated Press, the deal includes provisions for protective gear, testing, physical distancing, and compliance monitoring. In May, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Kathryn Barger said that the pandemic had put many of the industry’s 890,000 workers out of a job.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines highlighting different levels of risk for Halloween activities.

[View source.]

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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