Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, February 2021 # 8

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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 Senate resumed former President Trump’s impeachment trial Wednesday. House impeachment managers presented a step-by-step timeline of the January 6 assault on the Capitol aided by new evidence. Senators saw newly-disclosed Capitol security camera footage showing members of Congress evacuating their chambers, including a clip in which Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman helps Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) escape a nearby mob. Senators also viewed an officer's body camera footage showing officers assaulted by the mob. In one clip an officer screams in anguish as he is crushed in a doorway by the rioters. The House managers and Trump’s defense team each have 16 hours to present their cases.
  • On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced the portion of House Democrats’ coronavirus relief package that would expand federal unemployment benefits. It now heads to the House Budget Committee as part of the budget reconciliation process. The measure would extend federal unemployment programs - currently expiring in March - through August 29 for self-employed people and for those who have exhausted their regular state benefits. It would also extend the federal boost to weekly benefits through August and increase the weekly boost from $300 to $400 starting in mid-March.
  • Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) vowed Wednesday that the Democrats’ proposed COVID-19 relief package will include, through special budgetary rules, a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour.  Sanders is showing no sign of backing down to centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who says he does not support raising the minimum wage to $15. Democrats must convince Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough that a $15-an-hour wage mandate is eligible to pass via the budget reconciliation process.
  • President Biden will undergo coronavirus testing every two weeks as a precaution despite receiving his second dose of the vaccine earlier this year, the White House said Wednesday. "There is 95 percent protection from the vaccine, but it’s not 100 percent protection," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. "So the president’s doctor believes it is reasonable and prudent to randomly test the president every two weeks as surveillance." 
  • A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study finds wearing a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask or wearing a mask fitted properly can cut COVID-19 transmission by up to 96.5 percent. These safety measures are the next best protection for Americans who haven't been vaccinated before the U.K. variant becomes the dominant strain in the U.S.  CDC guidance also provides ways to check a mask for proper fitting and adjust it to make it fit better.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of a second Covid-19 antibody treatment from Eli Lilly.  The agency on Tuesday approved the combination of bamlanivimab and etesevimab for people age 12 and older with mild to moderate disease that is at high risk of becoming severe. The FDA had previously authorized the use of bamlanivimab as a standalone treatment in November. In January, researchers reported in the Journal of American Medical Association that later trials found Lilly's new combination treatment was more effective at reducing viral load than was bamlanivimab alone.  Lilly said it has 100,000 doses of the antibody cocktail ready for use now and will have another 150,000 doses available throughout the first quarter of 2021. It is partnering with Amgen to manufacture one of the antibodies in the cocktail.

In the News:

  • The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) on Wednesday recommended the AstraZeneca/Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use for those 18 and older. South Africa halted distribution of that vaccine on Sunday after research suggested it provides less protection against the variant most prominent there. But WHO said it was suggesting the AstraZeneca vaccine still be used in countries combating the variants. The U.S. has not yet approved the AstraZeneca vaccine because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is awaiting the results of a large clinical trial.
  • A new study released on Monday shows that last year’s New Orleans Mardi Gras was a superspreader event that contributed to 50,000 coronavirus cases in Louisiana. The study’s findings rested on the genetic similarity of cases in Louisiana post-Mardi Gras. The study has not been peer-reviewed yet. Mardi Gras occurred in February of last year just before widespread lockdowns started. This year’s Mardi Gras, on February 16, is scaled-back and socially distant, with the annual parade cancelled, spawning elaborate decorations focused on homes instead of parade floats.
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) will quarantine and cancel in-person events after a family member tested positive for COVID-19, his office said Wednesday. Mahen Gunaratna, Murphy’s communications director, said contact tracing has already begun to notify anyone who came into contact with Murphy’s family. Murphy was tested for the coronavirus earlier Wednesday as part of a scheduled regime and received a negative result.

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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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