Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, March 2021 # 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:

  • Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen expressed confidence Wednesday that the U.S. can spend trillions more in upcoming legislation following this month’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. In testimony before a Senate panel, Yellen said that she believes the U.S. can afford to invest trillions in projects meant to boost productivity despite the national debt exceeding historic highs thanks to years of low borrowing costs. Yellen added, however, “[l]onger run, we do have to raise revenue to support permanent spending.” On Tuesday, Powell and Yellen told the House Financial Services Committee that economic recovery has moved faster than expected and the federal financial relief packages averted the worst economic consequences of the pandemic.
  • The Senate voted 52-48 Wednesday to confirm Rachel Levine to serve as President Joe Biden’s assistant secretary of health. Just two Republicans joined all Democrats in supporting Levine.
  • Counties with high proportions of Asian, Black, and Hispanic populations experienced more coronavirus infections earlier during the pandemic’s first and second waves than mostly white counties, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC's findings, set to be published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, add to a growing body of research that shows a respiratory virus like SARS-CoV-2 can spread more easily in communities with inadequate health care systems.
  • Progressives are pushing President Biden to support a waiver for COVID-19 vaccine patent protections at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Proponents argue it would enable poor countries to ramp up their own manufacturing and address severe shortages. Opponents, including key vaccine makers, argue innovations like rapid vaccine development require patent protections. Lawmakers led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) are crafting a letter to the administration in support, with more than 60 members signing on so far. Over 50 countries and an array of groups support the proposal, including Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders.
  • Fraud linked to the Covid pandemic has cost Americans $382 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission. As of Tuesday, more than 217,000 people had filed a coronavirus-related fraud report with the agency since January 2020, according to federal data. The median loss was $330. However, losses skewed higher for seniors — $500 for people in their 70s and $900 for those in their 80s.
  • The trade group for the world’s biggest cruise lines on Wednesday called on the CDC to allow a phased-in resumption of sailings from U.S. ports in early July. In a press release, Cruise Lines International Association President Kelly Craighead argues the CDC’s stance does not reflect the current conditions of the pandemic nor the accelerated rollout of Covid vaccines. Cruise lines said the early-July timeframe is in line with President Joe Biden’s goal for when the U.S. will be “closer to normal.”
  • White House senior medical adviser Anthony Fauci said during a Tuesday press briefing that the U.S. may be headed toward “turning the corner” but warned that turning that corner may not happen depending on challenges such as spring break and daily infection rates. The level of daily new infections hovers around 55,000, according to the CDC.
  • The contract manufacturer, Catalent, which is helping to produce Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine has was cleared Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and has now started delivering millions of doses immediately.
  • The Small Business Administration (SBA) is increasing the maximum amount small businesses and non-profit organizations can borrow through its COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. Starting the week of April 6, 2021, the SBA is raising the loan limit for the COVID-19 EIDL program from 6-months of economic injury with a maximum loan amount of $150,000 to up to 24-months of economic injury with a maximum loan amount of $500,000.

In the News:

  • A coalition of 12 state attorneys general on Wednesday called on Facebook and Twitter to enforce their community guidelines and rid their services of misinformation being spread by accounts promoting anti-vaccine ideas. In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the coalition said just 12 accounts and their associated organizations produced 65 percent of the public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai are set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the topic of misinformation on their services on Thursday.
  • More states are lifting eligibility requirements for Americans to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Indiana, Texas, and Georgia on Tuesday joined the majority of states in allowing all adults to receive coronavirus vaccines late this week or next week. Utah opened all eligibility on Wednesday. Indiana will also lift its statewide mandate and remaining COVID business restrictions in two weeks.
  • A news nationwide government study shows that about three-quarters of public elementary and middle schools in the U.S. were open for in-person learning in January, but white students were far more likely to be sitting in classrooms than their Black, Hispanic, and Asian classmates.

[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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