Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, October 2020 # 4

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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:

  • President Trump left Walter Reed Medical Center Monday evening despite his personal doctor, Sean Conley, saying he “may not be entirely out of the woods yet.” In a memo on Tuesday, his doctor said the President is doing “extremely well” and showing “no symptoms,” adding that his vitals are “stable.” Questions remain as the doctors continue to withhold vital information about the president’s condition.
  • Upon being released, officials staged and filmed a dramatic return to the White House to show the President as healthy and strong. After getting out of the helicopter, Trump walked to the second story balcony to continue filming and removed his face mask despite being infected and several staff members around him. Footage showed that he had labored breathing and was suppressing a cough. Trump proceeded to downplay the virus in the video that he released on Twitter telling Americans not to fear COVID and “don’t let it dominate you” because “you are going to beat it.” This comes as more than seven million people in the US have contracted the virus and more than 210,000 have died from it nationwide.
  • The President continued to downplay the virus Tuesday morning by falsely claiming in a tweet that COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu. The tweet prompted action from Twitter and Facebook for violating their platform’s rules on spreading harmful and misleading misinformation. “Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!,” Trump tweeted. Twitter covered the tweet with a warning, while Facebook decided to remove the post entirely.
  • President Trump tweeted Tuesday that he is halting negotiations with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders on a new coronavirus aid package until after the Nov. 3 elections. In a series of tweets, he also pushed for the Senate to instead focus on confirming his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Just Saturday, while receiving treatment for COVID-19 at Walter Reed Medical Center, the President called on Congress to swiftly pass a stimulus package tweeting, “OUR GREAT USA WANTS & NEEDS STIMULUS. WORK TOGETHER AND GET IT DONE. Thank you!”
  • The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and several top Pentagon leaders are quarantining after being exposed to the virus, an official said. Admiral Charles Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, tested positive for coronavirus and set off a chain of events that has led to General Mark Milley and almost the entirety of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are quarantining and working from home and alternative locations.
  • The Trump and Biden campaigns are in disagreement with the safety precaution changes being made for the upcoming debates to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On Monday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that dividers had been agreed upon, in addition to the 7-12 feet distances between the candidates. Vice President Mike Pence has now objected to the dividers around him and asking that the candidates stand rather than the planned on seated at a table format. No final design agreement has been announced. Both campaigns are aware that the negotiations’ outcome could create a precedent for the remaining presidential debates between Biden and Trump, scheduled to meet again on Oct. 15 and 22.
  • White House finally approved the set of tough new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) coronavirus vaccine standards after weeks of delays. The standards, which would be used for an emergency authorization of a vaccine, are the same as the ones the agency proposed weeks ago as part of an effort to boost public confidence in an eventual vaccine. The White House had initially blocked implementing the new standards based on the 2-month data fearing it would delay the vaccine.
  • The White House rejected the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offer to lead the effort to track and notify citizens that were exposed to the coronavirus outbreak linked to President Trump and the many White House officials and staff. The CDC is the federal government’s authority and experts in contact tracing. CDC officials say the White House is avoiding tracing the scope of the outbreak.
  • Former and current U.S. national security officials warn that foreign adversaries are preparing to “fill the information void” left open by Trump’s medical team about the President’s health and current condition. Adversaries are poised to take advantage of the lack of transparency to spread disinformation to “make mischief” and sow doubt about the U.S. government’s stability.

In the News:

  • About 10 percent of the global population may have been infected by the coronavirus, according to World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. It's an estimate that's far higher than the total of global confirmed cases reported by governments. As WHO leadership meets at its headquarters in Geneva, the world has officially tallied more than 35 million coronavirus cases and more than 1 million fatalities. While reports do not indicate the WHO’s stated rationale for the undercount, many experts believe the virus has been under-reported due to lack of testing.
  • Aircraft manufacturer Boeing is cutting its expectations for new commercial aircraft demand over the next decade, citing what it estimates will be a years-long slump in travel demand because of the coronavirus pandemic. The manufacturer forecast on Tuesday that the world’s airlines will need 18,350 planes worth $2.9 trillion over the next 10 years, an 11 percent drop from its forecast a year ago. In the first half of 2020, Boeing’s sales fell 26 percent to $28.7 billion. Its defense and space unit generated nearly 44 percent of that revenue, a ten-point jump from 2019.
  • Data from more than 1,400 colleges compiled by the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College and analyzed by NPR shows that more than 2 out of 3 colleges with in-person classes either have no clear COVID-19 testing plan or are testing only students who feel sick or are exposed to an infected person. Among that subset of colleges with more 5,000 undergraduates, only 25 percent are conducting mass screening or random "surveillance" testing. Only 6 percent are routinely testing all students. The findings suggest that communities around the U.S. could be exposed to new outbreaks once students head home for the holidays.
  • Over 7,000 movie screens will be dark in the U.S. this weekend as the Regal theater chain said it will shut down all 536 locations on Thursday. The closure reflects "an increasingly challenging theatrical landscape" due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is temporary, the chain said. Regal had started to reopen U.S. locations in late August. Regal is the second-largest film exhibitor in the U.S., after AMC Theatres. Roughly 40,000 Regal employees across the U.S. now face a work furlough, the company told NPR.

[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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