Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – August 2020 # 11

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In Washington

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is calling Democrats back from the August recess to vote on legislation that would prohibit operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service that could curtail mail-in voting. Democrats will convene on Saturday and take up House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney’s "Delivering for America Act." According to sources on a private party conference call yesterday, the legislation will include US$25 billion in new funding and would block organizational changes at the Postal Service. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has scheduled a hearing on the USPS for 24 August. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who overtook leadership of the USPS in May, has agreed to testify.
  • State officials find themselves scrambling in response to constituents worried about President Trump’s attacks on the USPS and the safety of mail in ballots. Attorneys general from at least six states are discussing possible lawsuits against the administration to block it from reducing mail service between now and the election.
  • The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has launched an investigation into potential conflicts of interest concerning contracts issued by the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed. House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) said the subcommittee committee is seeing some things that indicate that there may be "some insider stuff" that is benefiting one or two individuals.
  • The Trump administration has chosen Texas-based medical supplier McKesson to be a centralized distributor for future COVID-19 vaccines. The president announced the decision Friday, saying the U.S. has three vaccine candidates in Phase 3 trials. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said in a statement that the announcement "puts another building block in place as the nation moves toward a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine."
  • The coronavirus pandemic is front and center at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) as the party kicks off its four-day virtual meeting Monday evening. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), two vocal critics of President Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, are scheduled to deliver primetime remarks. Programming will also feature a "conversation with health care workers on the frontlines," organizers said. Former Vice President Joe Biden is slated to formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday night.
  • Surgical gowns, gloves, masks, certain ventilators, and various testing supplies needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic are on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) first-ever list of medical devices in shortage. The agency is not disclosing who makes any of the devices on the list, which it released Friday, because that "will adversely affect the public health by increasing the potential for hoarding or other disruptions." Instead, the agency has released the product codes of devices in shortage.
  • As President Trump has signaled recent dissatisfaction with the cautious public health warnings of Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, the White House has increased its reliance on Dr. Scott Atlas to promote its coronavirus message. Atlas, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has warned against COVID-19 overreaction, pushed to reopen schools and sports leagues, and has downplayed the need for broader testing. Atlas has opposed Dr. Birx’s proposal to scale-up home testing through methods such as saliva tests. During a recent task force meeting he told Dr. Fauci that science does not definitively support government mandates on wearing masks, countering the CDC's own advice.

In the News

  • A saliva-based COVID-19 test developed by the Yale School of Public Health was granted emergency use authorization this weekend by the FDA. Researchers say that SalivaDirect is available to diagnostic laboratories that want to start using the new test, which can be scaled up quickly for use across the nation in the coming weeks.
  • At least 5,408,268 people in the U.S. have tested positive for coronavirus and at least 170,131 people have died from the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
  • Novavax on Monday announced it would proceed to phase two clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine. The Maryland-based firm received a US$15 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of its efforts to develop a vaccine. Phase two trials will be conducted in South Africa, one of the countries experiencing the most pronounced outbreaks. Companies including Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer have developed vaccine candidates that are currently in phase three trials.
  • South Korea and New Zealand, formerly hailed for their coronavirus mitigation efforts, are seeing virus upticks again. South Korea just registered its fourth consecutive day of new cases in the triple digits, with 197 alone on Monday, mostly originating around Seoul. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday postponed national elections until October 17 following the discovery of a cluster of new coronavirus cases in Auckland.
  • A new analysis published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that African American, Latino, American Indian, and Alaskan Native people were disproportionately hospitalized for COVID-19. "This analysis identified considerable disparities in the prevalence of COVID-19 across racial/ethnic subgroups of the population in 12 states," said the researchers from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.
  • Cities and states nationwide are slashing police department budgets due to police reform policies and COVID-19-caused budget crunches. Seattle cut US$3 million and 100 officers from its police department on Monday, Maryland recently reduced its state police department budget by two percent, and New York City cancelled the NYPD’s July class of more than 1,100 recruits, partially in response to steep drops in city revenue. The trend will likely persist given the congressional stalemate over aid to cities and states.

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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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