Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – September 2020 # 13

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  • Trump health administration officials testified Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on the nation's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn all spoke.
    • Dr.Redfield said a majority of Americans remain susceptible to Covid-19. “CDC is in the process of a very large, sequential study across the entire United States, measuring serology.” Redfield said the preliminary results on the first round show that more than 90% of the population remains susceptible.
    • Robert Hahn attempted to increase confidence in the vaccine process making it clear that the FDA wouldn’t authorize or approve any COVID-19 vaccine that doesn’t meet the agency’s “rigorous expectations for safety and effectiveness.”
    • Dr. Anthony Fauci, agreed that they would trust a vaccine if it was approved or authorized by the FDA after vetting by scientists.
  • The House passed legislation on Tuesday night to avert a government shutdown through Dec. 11, sending the bill to the Senate with just eight days left before current federal funding expires. Lawmakers passed the bill in a bipartisan vote of 359-57.
  • Two House Democrats are pressing for an investigation and public hearings following a report that the Pentagon redirected most of its US$1 billion in COVID-19 funding to projects that had little to do with the coronavirus. Reps. Barbara Lee (CA) and Mark Pocan (WI) cited a Washington Post article published Tuesday reporting that the Defense Department funneled a large portion of its CARES Act money to buying jet engine parts, body armor, dress uniforms, and other military needs.
  • The Trump administration’s pandemic response and its alleged efforts to meddle with CDC recommendations have lowered the agency’s morale, half a dozen anonymous current and former CDC officials told The Hill. “I have never seen morale this low...People are beaten down partially by a public who not only distrusts us but who actually think we want to infringe on their civil liberties,” said one current CDC employee. “The other factor is the active undermining by senior members of our own administration.” The White House has continually and flatly denied any political meddling in the agency’s recommendations.
  • Johnson & Johnson has begun phase three trials of its potential coronavirus vaccine. While the development of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine trails candidates from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, it may outflank its competitors because unlike other candidates it requires one dose, not two, and does not require storage at very cold temperatures. The company said the first doses could be ready in “early 2021” if the vaccine proves safe and effective. Shortly after the announcement, President Trump tweeted, “Big news,” adding, “@FDA must move quickly!”
  • Members of Congress and the tax preparation industry are pushing to simplify tax filing rules amid the pandemic, which has prompted many people to work remotely in states that differ from their regular workplaces. Additionally, some health professionals have traveled to another state to treat patients in areas hard-hit by the virus. In both cases, workers could end up owing taxes to that new state. Advocates are concerned that workers could face confusion when they file their state taxes next year.

In the News

  • Policymakers in New York are debating whether to raise state taxes on wealthy residents to address fiscal shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers and outside groups advocate tax hikes in order to minimize spending cuts for services. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has resisted those calls. Instead, he has pushed for states to receive more federal funds and argues that tax increases would cause wealthy New Yorkers to leave the state or not return.
  • A pilot program using dogs to identify travelers infected with COVID-19 kicked off at Finland’s Helsinki Airport Tuesday. Travelers who agree to participate in the program swab their skin with a wipe that is then put into a jar and given to a dog waiting in a separate area. It reportedly takes the dog about 10 seconds to indicate whether the sample is COVID-19 positive. The dogs have a nearly-perfect accuracy rate so far.
  • The American Academy of Actuaries released a brief on the impact of COVID-19 on pension plan actuarial experience and assumptions, including mortality. The brief finds that there is much uncertainty about the impacts of COVID-19 on both near-term and assumed long-term future mortality. Also the pandemic’s effects on the economy, on workforce patterns, and on plan sponsors’ budgets are likely to be far more financially significant to most pension plans, at least in the near term, than the effect on mortality.
  • Even as most of its stores reopened, Nike’s digital sales soared 82 percent during the summer. The company is on track to have its digital sales represent 50 percent of total revenue in the coming years. Nike said its online sales are more profitable than sales in wholesale channels, like department stores. “The accelerated consumer shift toward digital is here to stay,” CEO John Donahoe predicted on Tuesday.
  • Americans have lost US$145 million to fraud related to COVID-19, according to Federal Trade Commission data. Consumers have filed more than 205,000 reports of fraud linked to the coronavirus since the beginning of the year, according to the agency. The average loss was US$300, according to the FTC. But financial loss among seniors who are at least 80 years old, despite being victimized less frequently than others, was more than double at US$655 for the typical person.
  • Walmart said it will hire 20,000 seasonal employees who will help pack and ship online purchases at its fulfillment centers as it anticipates more holiday shopping to shift online during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company usually opts to increase current employee holiday hours instead of hiring anew. Since March, Walmart has hired more than 500,000 employees across its U.S. stores and supply chain to meet demand.

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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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