Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – September 2020 # 14

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In Washington

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have agreed to revive negotiations over a stalled follow-up coronavirus relief bill. Speaker Pelosi has directed her committee chairs to draft a new coronavirus relief package as a marker for potential talks with the White House and the Senate. Pelosi and House Democratic leaders met Thursday afternoon to decide on how they will move forward. Pelosi said the House could vote on the newly drafted bill next week. The Speaker told her caucus that they are still thriving for an agreement, and if necessary, they could “formalize the request by voting on it on the House Floor,” according to a person familiar with the meeting. POLITICO reports that the draft package would amount to US$2.4 trillion in aid, including aid to the struggling airline industry.
  • Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Thursday urged Congress to make more funding available for small businesses as the officials warned that more economic distress lies ahead. As reported yesterday, Mnuchin testified before the Senate Banking Committee that unlocking the unused US$130 billion in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was essential to helping the hardest-hit companies. He also emphasized the need to boost spending in the economy and provide “something more” for unemployed Americans.
  • Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Susan Collins (R-ME) chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation attempted to fast-track a stand-alone bill (S. 4634) that would provide US$28 billion in aid to the airline workers. Senators rejected the attempt saying they needed more time to review the bill and address their concerns.
  • At a 23 Sept. press conference, President Trump said that he might reject the Food and Drug Administration’s stricter vaccine guidelines for authorizing the emergency use of any coronavirus vaccines. "That has to be approved by the White House," Trump said. "We may or may not approve it," he said. Trump suggested that FDA’s decision to revise the standards was a political move. Trump has stoked fears for months that he seeks, for political reasons, a vaccine on an artificially accelerated pre-election timeline. FDA Chief Stephen Hahn has refused to comment on the President’s comments.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci fought back against yet another attack from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in this week's Senate Health Committee hearing on the coronavirus. Paul has used previous hearings to challenge Fauci with unsubstantiated claims about the virus and the doctor’s knowledge of the virus. Fauci, who has always responded diplomatically, sparred back this time. Facui argued that the Senator is misconstruing facts about the results of New York’s mitigation of pandemic and his claims that the state has attained some form of herd immunity. “I challenge that,” Fauci said firmly, “You are not listening to what the director of the CDC [Robert Redfield] that in New York, it’s about 22 percent [that have tested positive]. If you believe 22 percent is herd immunity, I believe you’re alone in that.”
  • White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, has reportedly told aides and friends that she is “distressed” with the direction that the task force has headed, describing the situation as “nightmarish,” according to CNN. Sources say that Birx views Dr. Scott Atlas, a new addition to the task force, as an “unhealthy influence” on the president’s thinking when it comes to the virus and is “feeding the President misleading information about the efficacy of face masks” for controlling the spread of the disease. "The President has found somebody who matches what he wants to believe," a source close to Birx said of her view of Atlas's relationship with Trump. "There is no doubt that she feels that her role has been diminished."
  • Two prominent scientist groups warn that political interference has pervaded the government’s scientific and public health workers responding to the coronavirus response. In a statement on Thursday, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) call that ongoing reports and incidences of the politicization of science, particularly the overriding of evidence and advice from public health officials and derision of government scientists, alarming. "It undermines the credibility of public health agencies and the public’s confidence in them when we need it most," wrote the Presidents of both organizations.
  • A White House official said the administration has shipped more than 250,000 rapid coronavirus tests to 41 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). “We know they’ve been underserved historically, and we just want to support them,” Adm. Brett Giroir, who is serving as testing czar for the task force, told McClatchy.

In the News

  • The number of new jobless claims for the week ending 19 Sept. increased to a seasonally adjusted 870,000, a small increase of 4,000 from the previous week. The weekly jobless figures remain extraordinarily high by historical standards, coming in above the previous record every week for six months. The unemployment rate is currently 8.4 percent.
  • Experts fear an increase in deaths from COVID-19 this fall and winter as the pandemic collides with flu season. Respiratory viruses like the flu and common cold tend to spread more easily in colder, dryer climates, leading experts to believe it will be the same for COVID-19. And the seven-day average number of daily new cases stands at 42,000, worsening the country’s starting place as cold weather sets in. Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that winter weather will force people back indoors, also aiding the virus’s spread. A respected University of Washington model estimates 378,000 deaths by 1 January with current trends, factoring in a winter increase.
  • Scientists are debating whether children should be included in COVID-19 vaccine trials. Emory University’s Evan Anderson, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, argued to reporters on Monday that trials should include children to allow them to be protected ahead of the 2021 school year. Anderson is also an investigator for the Moderna-National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases vaccine trial. Barry Bloom, an immunologist at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told USA Today that he believes children should not be included in trials until a vaccine is shown to be safe when tested on adults. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics over 587,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • United Airlines will offer some Hawaii-bound customers rapid-response coronavirus tests at the airport. United is the first U.S. airline to offer a COVID-19 testing program. Passengers booked from United’s San Francisco hub to Hawaii can get the test starting 15 October, the airline said Thursday. That date is when Hawaii is scheduled to lift a two-week quarantine requirement on arriving travelers as long as they test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their departure. Passengers will be responsible for paying for the tests, which will initially cost US$250.

[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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