Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, January 2021 # 11

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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:

  • The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted. Trump lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil, and much of Europe effective January 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel," Psaki said.
  • President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday designated Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine to be his assistant secretary of Health and Human Services. Levine is a physician and professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine and has been leading Pennsylvania’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Biden also announced that Vivek H. Murthy will return to be sworn in as surgeon general for the second time, and Andrea Palm as deputy secretary for legislation. Palm is Secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). Fifteen HHS appointee positions requiring Senate confirmation remain.
  • Local health officials across the country face tough decisions on whether to close testing sites or cut back on hours because they don’t have enough funding or staff to administer both COVID-19 vaccinations and testing. For example, Los Angeles closed its large testing site at Dodger Stadium, converting it instead into a vaccination site. Congress provided $8.75 billion in vaccine distribution funding in the December coronavirus relief package. Officials hope the money flows quickly. President-elect Biden on Thursday proposed $20 billion in federal funds for vaccination, among other measures.
  • House Democrats are projecting to pass President-elect Joe Biden's "American Rescue Plan" by late February or early March. Punchbowl News reported Tuesday afternoon that House Democrats are preparing to use budget reconciliation to pass the package, allowing the Senate to pass the measure with a simple majority. The administration had previously planned to pass the measure under regular order.
  • President-elect Joe Biden's nominee as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) has yet to get a confirmation hearing and leaves no one at the helm. The administration will have to designate a "career" civil servant or an already confirmed lower political appointee. Some speculate that Biden might choose Eric Hargan, the HHS deputy secretary who was a temporary acting secretary after Secretary Tom Price left and Alex Azar later replaced him. Other names being floated include Norris Chochran deputy assistant secretary of budget or Francis Collins, the longtime director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), whom Biden is retaining.
  • The opposite is true for the incoming chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky. The CDC director will be sworn in shortly after Biden takes his oath for office. Walensky's position does not require Senate confirmation because it is mostly a monitoring role that engages with the public, rather than one that creates policy. Walensky vows to start her position, helping states fix the COVID-19 vaccination programs and persuading Americans to wear masks.
  • In the fallout of the Capitol insurgence, at least 20 Capitol Police officers that faced large crowds of screaming unmasked Trump supporters have tested positive for COVID-19 by late last week. The USCP is now providing rapid testing for all its officers.

In the news:

  • World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus condemned what he called inequity in global vaccine distribution during a WHO meeting on Monday. According to the Associated Press, Adhanom Ghebreyesus bemoaned that one poorer country, identified by a WHO spokesperson as Guinea, had only received 25 coronavirus vaccines doses thus far. He reportedly added, “it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries. There will be enough vaccine for everyone.” According to Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a WHO-supported program called COVAX has secured 2 billion vaccines with delivery slated to begin next month.
  • The Los Angeles air quality regulator has lifted restrictions on the number of monthly cremations, put in place to prevent pollution, in order to ease a backlog caused by covid-19 deaths.
  • A state senator from Minnesota died after attending a party to celebrate the Republican Party’s narrow election victory in the state legislature in November. Jerry Relph was one of four attendees at the party to test positive for the virus.

[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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