Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, January 2021 # 12

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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:

  • On Jan. 20, Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States as he and Kamala Harris were sworn into office in front of the Capitol building that only two weeks prior was the scene of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Biden proved that he was wasting no time getting to work on his administration’s policy priorities, including equipping the U.S. to beat the COVID-19 pandemic. Inauguration day started with Biden’s White House releasing more than a dozen bold executive actions halting and reversing a rash of Trump administration deregulatory actions. Later that day, Biden signed an order requiring face coverings and social distancing on federal property and canceled the Trump administration’s attempt to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization.
  • On Thursday, President Biden addressed the media and the nation, "We're in a national emergency. It's time we treat it like one," Biden said. "This is a wartime undertaking.” Biden invoked the Defense Protection Act to accelerate and expand the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines, increase testing to identify and isolate the virus, increase the manufacturing of personal protection equipment (PPD). The E.O.s also directs the Education and Health and Human Services departments to get schools guidance and resources they need to reopen safely. Further, it will reimburse states for the use of the National Guard in Covid-19 relief efforts. Another order would strengthen enforcement against employers who put their workers at risk for contracting COVID-19 directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to put out stronger guidance around virus prevention measures and go after “the worst violators.” But the action doesn't go so far as to order OSHA to create a temporary emergency standard for workplaces during the pandemic. Another E.O. sets safety protocols for domestic and international travel and one that reinforces the government will provide an equitable and data-driven response to COVID and future high consequence public health threats.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that they are adjusting the floor schedule from what was previously announced to House Committees instead of spending the next week preparing COVID-19 relief for consideration on the floor the first week of February.
  • A new group of sixteen bipartisan senators will be meeting with National Economic Council Director Brian Deese to go over President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. Most of these Senators were the same ones that helped negotiate the $902 billion COVID relief bill that passed in December.
    • Republicans: Todd Young (IN), Jerry Moran (KS), Shelly Moore Capito (WV), Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Mitt Romney (UT), Rob Portman (OH), Bill Cassidy (LA)
    • Democrats: Joe Manchin (WV), Mark Warner (VA), Dick Durbin (IL), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Angus King (ME), Maggie Hassan (NH), John Hickenlooper (CO)
    • Mark Kelly (AZ)
  • President Biden has picked National Institutes of Health official Dr. Anthony Fauci to lead a U.S. delegation at the World Health Organization’s annual meetings this week, reversing outgoing President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw from the international aid group. The new administration plans to work with the WHO on an international Covid response plan as one of Biden’s first major policy changes. Fauci will deliver remarks to WHO on Thursday at its annual executive board meetings, transition officials said before yesterday’s Inauguration.
  • According to Labor Department numbers, almost 3 million Americans appear to have fallen off the unemployment benefits cliff after Christmas. President Trump signed the latest COVID-19 relief bill, extending those benefits, on December 27, after the CARES Act’s long-term unemployment benefits had lapsed. More than 1.7 million people dropped off Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and roughly 1.1 million stopped receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

In the News:

  • The fall and winter wave of coronavirus infections in the U.S. may have peaked. The number of new daily infections appears to have hit a high in the past 1-2 weeks and has been steadily declining in most states since, according to the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The overall number of hospitalized patients also appears to have reached a peak. It's down from a peak of over 132,000 patients on Jan. 6 to 122,700 as of Wednesday. Deaths, which have recently set single-day records, have not slowed yet.
  • Most Americans say the $600 second round of COVID-19 stimulus payments won’t help keep them afloat for long, a new Bankrate survey finds. While 71 percent of respondents say the stimulus payments are important for their finances, 53 percent say the $600 checks are not enough to sustain them for even a single month. For those who will receive the second stimulus payment, 42 percent say the money will go toward their current monthly bills, 32 percent are earmarking the funds for day-to-day essentials, about 30 percent say some will go toward savings, and about 25 percent plan to use it to pay down debt.
  • A growing number of grocers are adopting a novel approach in the race to get their workers vaccinated against COVID-19: providing pay incentives. Aldi this week became the latest grocery chain to offer employees compensation for getting vaccinated, saying it would provide workers with two hours of pay for each of the two vaccine doses. The grocer also promised workers receiving vaccines that they would not lose pay for missed hours from work. The German grocer joined Trader Joe's and Dollar General in offering to pay employees extra hourly wages to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Hungary has licensed Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, breaking ranks with other EU countries and ignoring calls to stick to a common European vaccine policy. Hungary’s medical body gave the Sputnik V vaccine emergency approval. Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, has been strongly critical of the slow speed of the EU vaccine distribution programme. So far about 140,000 Hungarians have been vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Officials are also in Beijing for talks over the approval of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

[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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