Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – August 2020 # 21

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In Washington

  • White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has “drawn his line in the sand” on a new coronavirus relief bill during an interview on NBC’s Meet The Press Sunday, saying the Trump administration is standing firm on its US$1.3 trillion offer. Meadows attacked House Speaker Pelosi “over her unwillingness to come down from a demand that Republicans support a US$2.2 trillion bill for the second round of economic stimulus in response to the coronavirus pandemic.” Speaker Pelosi has been holding firm that the administration meets Democrats halfway in negotiations. Meadows criticized Pelosi for not negotiating policy specifics prior to agreeing to a package amount, saying she would rather turn down US$1.3 trillion of aid than “give way on what her fantasy objection might be.”
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn says that the FDA would grant emergency authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine before it has finished rigorous Phase 3 human trials if the agency determines it’s appropriate to do so. Many health experts have warned against emergency authorization, including Dr. Anthony Fauci. Hahn outlined the process by saying that FDA would make “a science, medicine, data decision” rather than a “political decision.” Some U.S. medical experts are even calling for an independent commission, separate from FDA, to review vaccines in light of increasing mistrust of government agencies. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan warned Monday that “The risk of approving a vaccine prematurely for us is that, first of all, it will make it very difficult to continue with randomized clinical trials. And secondly, there’s a risk of introducing a vaccine that’s been inadequately studied and might turn out to have a low efficacy, thereby not doing the job of bringing an end to this pandemic or even worse, have a safety profile that’s not acceptable.”
  • Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb is questioning current Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s comments about fast-tracking a coronavirus vaccine. Dr. Gottlieb, who sits on Pfizer’s board, which is developing a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, says that late-stage U.S. coronavirus vaccine trials are unlikely to have gathered enough evidence to receive emergency approval ahead of the election. Full approval for the general population is more likely to happen in the first half of 2021, Gottlieb told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
  • White House coronavirus task force adviser Scott Atlas is reportedly pushing the administration to adopt a “herd immunity” strategy to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The White House and Atlas deny pursuing any such strategy. Sweden’s approach has been heavily criticized by public health experts worldwide because it requires a high death toll without a guarantee of achieving herd immunity. Experts estimate that achieving herd immunity would require about 2.13 million deaths in the U.S.
  • At least 33 states have rejected new guidance by the Trump administration that suggested that those exposed to COVID-19, but don’t display symptoms, are not required to be tested. The states, which include Texas, Oklahoma, and Arizona, are continuing to recommend testing any person exposed to coronavirus, even if they are asymptomatic, disagreeing with revised guidance published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that said testing was unnecessary.
  • On Tuesday 1 September, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will testify before the House Oversight and Reform Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee regarding the administration’s response to the economic crisis.
  • Senate Republicans are likely to propose billions of dollars in coronavirus relief for child care providers in the GOP’s "skinny” coronavirus relief bill, according to GOP sources. The bill’s child care component is expected to resemble the language in the Senate Republicans’ US$1 trillion coronavirus relief bill, unveiled in late July. That provision allocated US$15 billion for childcare providers, including grants to reopen childcare centers and follow health and safety guidelines.
  • House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) announced Monday she will subpoena Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to get documents that were to be provided last week regarding a slowdown in mail delivery.

In the News

  • The U.S. has passed six million confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country has also surpassed 183,000 deaths.
  • United Airlines and Delta Airlines announced they are permanently eliminating change fees for most U.S. plane tickets, joining Southwest Airlines in the move. Many airlines waived change fees due to the coronavirus pandemic, but only on a temporary basis.
  • GlaxoSmithKline is partnering with Vir Biotechnology to begin testing an experimental antibody for patients with the early stages of COVID-19. Reuters reports that the antibody is designed to block the virus from invading cells and to have immune cells attack already infected cells.
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced that beginning Friday restaurants will be permitted to reopen indoor dining rooms with some restrictions, with capacity capped at 25 percent. Also, movie theaters and indoor performances venues will reopen with capacity restrictions on Friday.
  • COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons nationwide continue to spread. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday released data showing 138 inmates at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex have tested positive. COVID-19 has spread quickly in the cramped conditions typical of prisons around the country.
  • Coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths of children and teens are on the rise, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Although younger children are less likely to catch or transmit the virus, the data collected from 21 May - 20 August suggests that infections among children appear to increase with general community spread.

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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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