Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, March 2021 # 2

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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:

  • Centrist Democratic senators met with President Biden on Monday to urge cuts to the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Angus King (I-ME) were among the attendees. Manchin said the bill should be “targeted.” Manchin supports cutting the House-passed weekly unemployment benefits enhancement from $400 to $300. He is also reportedly pushing to lower the House’s $350 billion figure for state and local government support. King emphasized curbing state and local governments’ flexibility in spending the funds, saying, “I believe there should be some guardrails on those funds.”
  • A group of Democratic senators is urging President Biden to include recurring direct payments in his forthcoming coronavirus recovery plan, slated to follow the current pending relief package. A letter spearheaded by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) touts recurring direct payments and automatic unemployment insurance extensions tied to economic conditions. That would add to the one-time $1,400 per person payments included in the currently pending package. The letter has thus far attracted at least nine other signatories, including the chairs of the Senate’s three major financial committees.
  • In a rare show of unity, Merck will help manufacture rival Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the weekend, but the company has faced production delays. President Biden said Tuesday the partnership with Merck, a major vaccine manufacturer that abandoned its own COVID-19 vaccine efforts, will move up the timeline for offering shots to citizens by nearly two months. The country will have enough vaccine supply for every adult in the U.S. by the end of May, rather than previous estimates of the end of July, Biden said in remarks delivered at the White House.
  • President Biden announced plans to prioritize teachers and childcare professionals for vaccines throughout March. The President has pledged to have the majority of K-8 schools reopened this spring. “Right now, an entire generation of young people is on the brink of being set back a year or more in their learning,” Biden said.  
  • Newly confirmed Education secretary Miguel Cardona wrote in USA Today op-ed explaining his five-point plan to get students back in school. The Education Department is planning a national summit this month on school reopenings with students, teachers, school leaders, and other organizations.
  • Congressional leaders wrote a letter to the Biden Administration urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update ventilation and respiratory protection guidance and standards to address aerosol transmission of the COVID-19 virus. In the letter, the leaders expressed concern with recent expert findings showing the CDC’s existing guidance, which was adopted under the prior Administration, may not go far enough to protect workers who face the greatest risk of exposure to the aerosol transmission of COVID-19.

In the News:

  • The state of Texas and Mississippi will lift their COVID-19 mask mandates despite health officials advising not to ease safety restrictions. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he was signing the executive order and allowing all businesses to open 100 percent beginning March 10. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also announced the end of all county mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen to full capacity effective March 3.
  • The coronavirus variant that originated in Brazil may infect some people who gained immunity from previous COVID-19 infections. Brazilian researchers confirmed that conclusion by mixing the variant with antibodies obtained from people who had the coronavirus last year and found that the antibodies were six times less effective at stopping the variant. The authors caution that the study, which has not been published in a medical journal, has only been conducted on cells in labs and not on people.
  • A detention center officer in New Mexico sued his county employers on Feb. 28, challenging a workplace requirement to receive the coronavirus vaccine. It’s the first lawsuit against mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in the U.S. The suit claims the manager and supervisor violated the officer’s rights by making the vaccine a condition of employment. The county disputes the allegations and argues that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said employers can mandate vaccinations. 
  • A Hill-HarrisX poll finds that 71 percent of New York registered voters say Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was aware of the true number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and concealed the figures. Twenty-nine percent said they didn’t think he was aware of the discrepancy. The survey follows allegations that Cuomo’s administration purposely reported lower death numbers. The FBI and U.S. attorney in Brooklyn are investigating the accusations. 

[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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