Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, March 2021 # 13

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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 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is planning to extend the tax-filing deadline to mid-May, according to two top House Democrats. A news release Wednesday from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) and Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) states that the deadline will be moved from April 15 to May 17. Neal, Pascrell, and other lawmakers had pressed for an extension.
  • The Treasury Department and the IRS said Wednesday that they've disbursed about 90 million stimulus payments authorized by the new coronavirus relief law. The payments that have been issued have a value of more than $242 billion, Treasury said. The coronavirus bill provides for direct payments for most Americans of up to $1,400 per person. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo on Wednesday apologized to customers who experienced problems with online banking on the same day that many received their $1,400 direct payments. The bank did not immediately confirm a timeline for fixing the outage.
  • The Biden administration is spending $10 billion authorized in the American Rescue Plan Act to expand COVID-19 testing in schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) will distribute the money along with technical assistance to states and certain cities next month. The program aims to enable some schools to reopen to in-person learning this school year. The CDC also announced $2.25 billion in grants to public health departments for bolstered testing and tracing in underserved communities, including rural Americans and people of color.
  • Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) sued Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and the Treasury Department on Wednesday over a provision of the recently signed pandemic relief bill. In a complaint filed in federal district court in Ohio, Yost challenges a provision that forbids state and local governments from using pandemic aid to offset tax cuts. Yost argues Congress violated constitutional restraints in seeking to control how states set their tax policies. Neither the White House nor the Treasury Department immediately responded when asked for comment.
  • Two coronavirus strains first detected in California are now officially "variants of concern," according to the CDC. The variants may be about 20 percent more transmissible, the agency said, citing early research. Some COVID-19 antibody treatments may also be less effective against the strains. But the CDC didn't say that vaccines would stop working against them. No coronavirus variants currently rise to the US government's highest threat level, "variant of high consequence." 
  • Initial concerns that Tuesday’s Atlanta-area massage parlor shootings were pandemic-related anti-Asian hate crimes lessened Wednesday. Authorities said that the 21-year-old suspect, accused of killing eight people, including several people of Asian descent, told investigators he has a sex addiction and saw the businesses as a temptation he needed to eliminate. There is no indication the businesses had any ties to sex work. President Biden on Wednesday had declined to attribute a motive to the shooter while acknowledging Asian Americans’ fears amid a surge in anti-Asian incidents over the past year.

In the News:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday recommended that nations continue using a COVID-19 vaccine created by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. About a dozen nations, mostly in Europe, have paused their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a few people who received the shot developed dangerous blood clots. In a statement the WHO argued any causal connection between the vaccine and clotting is not yet shown because blood clots are generally common medical problems. “At this time, WHO considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue.” 
  • Google blocked 99 million ads worldwide related to the coronavirus pandemic that would have violated its policies in 2020, according to a company report released Wednesday. The advertisements included attempts to sell fabricated cures, N95 masks when there was a shortage early in the pandemic, and fake vaccines. Overall, Google blocked or removed 3.1 billion ads during 2020. 
  • The French government will impose stronger restrictions in some regions, including Paris, as it combats rising coronavirus infections. Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said the new measures will include some form of confinement, Reuters reports, with weekend lockdowns and nationwide curfews having already been announced. Attal added that the new restrictions will not include school closures.
  • Amazon on Wednesday announced plans to expand its company telemedicine program into a product available to other employers. According to a company blog post, the “Amazon Care” app connects people virtually with doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals for over-the-phone treatment 24 hours a day. Amazon said the app offers care through either messaging or video, and offers both urgent and primary care services, including COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, preventative care, and prescription requests.

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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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