Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – July 2020 #9

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[Author: Shelley Castle]

Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines provided by the Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs team.

In Washington:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Monday told reporters that when the Senate returns next week Republicans will start discussions on the next coronavirus stimulus package with their Democratic counterparts.  “I think you can anticipate this coming to a head sometime within the next three weeks,” he said.  But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told Democrats on a caucus call on Monday that the House might be in session an extra week on the first of August to finish up coronavirus negotiations.  The expanded unemployment benefits are due to expire by the end of this month.  McConnell reiterated that no bill will pass the Senate without liability protection “for everyone related to the coronavirus.”
  • The Trump Administration is changing a new data reporting protocol and ordering hospitals to bypass the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and instead send critical COVID-19 information to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The CDC normally collects information on patients, available beds and additional data and would no longer become a data recipient.  Critics fear the administration’s moves could lead to the data being distorted for political gain.  The White House is also asking governors to consider sending its National Guard to its hospitals to help improve data collection about the virus.
  • The Trump administration on Tuesday rescinded a policy that would have stripped visas from international students whose courses moved exclusively online amid the coronavirus pandemic.  The move comes after the policy announcement last week sparked a flurry of litigation, beginning with a suit brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), followed by California’s public colleges and later a coalition of 17 states, among others. The development marks one of the few times the Trump Administration has backed down from implementing a major immigration-related policy without first being ordered by a judge to do so.  
  • Schools should bring students back to class, but local leaders will need to watch local infection rates, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday. “Let’s try and get them open to the extent that we can, but let’s take a look at the dynamics of the infection in the area that you’re in,” Fauci said during a Georgetown University Global Health Initiative webinar. “We should try as best as possible to keep the children in school for the reasons that the unintended downstream ripple effect consequences of keeping the kids out of school and the impact on working families, and on other aspects of society can be profound,” Fauci said.  President Trump during an interview with CBS News said it would be a “terrible decision” if schools don’t open on time in the fall, ignoring possible concerns from those who view it as unsafe.
  • The executives of four private companies running immigration detention centers told lawmakers that about 900 of their employees have tested positive for COVID-19.   The companies — GEO Group, CoreCivic, Management & Training Corporation (MTC), and LaSalle Corrections — all contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 
  • POLITICO is reporting that some Republicans are breaking from President Trump’s coronavirus talking points on testing, wearing masks, and reopening schools.  The lack of timely testing caused staunch ally Sen. Lindsey Graham to suggest it was time for the President to invoke the Defense Production Act to compel companies to produce testing supplies or incentivize pool testing.  Even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking a more “somber tone” as he gives his daily reports and started acknowledging the need for faster testing.
  • Four former CDC directors wrote a Washington Post op-ed accusing the Trump administration of politicizing public health information. The former directors said that the Trump administration’s undermining of the public health officials and casting public doubt has resulted in the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths. “As the debate last week around reopening schools more safely showed, these repeated efforts to subvert sound public health guidelines introduce chaos and uncertainty while unnecessarily putting lives at risk,” wrote the former CDC health officials Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan, David Satcher and Richard Besser.

In the News:

  • A Covid-19 vaccine developed by the biotechnology company Moderna in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been found to induce immune responses in all of the volunteers who received it in a Phase 1 study. Moderna’s is considered the leading vaccine prototype in the US, was the first to enter human trials and is the first to complete phase 1 in the country If the next phase of testing in more people goes well, the company will be on track to make 500 million a year, with the goal of 1 billion by the end of 2021.
  • Across the U.S., states are seeing record-breaking spikes in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths.  Oklahoma reported 993 cases of the virus on Tuesday, a single-day record for the state.  Florida, Utah and Alabama all broke their records for most deaths in a single day.
  • Some retailers are ending the pay raises or “hero pay” they started when the pandemic began, despite recent COVID-19 surges in many states.  Stop & Shop is the latest retailer to make such a move, ending a 10 percent pay raise it gave its 56,000 employees this spring.  Amazon, Kroger and Albertsons have also ended pandemic hourly pay raises, though some of them continue to give out bonuses.  ShopRite said it planned to end its $2-an-hour raise early next month.
  • North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) announced Tuesday that schools will reopen this fall with students splitting time between classroom and remote learning. The plan also includes increased social distancing with schools operating at no more than 50 percent and buses at no more than 33 percent capacity.
  • An estimated 5.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance between February and May according to a new study by Families USA. The nonpartisan consumer advocacy group found that the estimated increase in uninsured workers was nearly 40 percent higher than the highest previous increase, during the recession of 2008.
  • Starting Wednesday, Best Buy will require shoppers to wear masks in an effort to keep customers, communities and employees safe, the company said in a news release.  
  • Vox Media is preparing layoffs after furloughing about 100 employees in April as part of virus-related cost cutting, according to people familiar with the matter.  Vox’s revenue fell 40 percent short of internal forecasts for the second-quarter and is on pace to fall 25 percent below forecast for the year. 
  • Mall owners are finding creative ways to use their parking lots during the coronavirus pandemic, even setting up the empty expanses as sources of revenue.  Brookfield Properties is working on a deal with entertainment company Kilburn Live to turn parking lots at a number of its U.S. malls into drive-in theaters, hosting movies and virtual concerts. 

The US-Canada border is expected to remain closed until at least August 21, CNN reports citing two Canadian government sources. There will be stepped-up enforcement and surveillance at most Canadian land borders in the coming weeks, the sources add. By mutual agreement, the US-Canada border has been closed to all non-essential traffic since March. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to formally announce the decision later this week

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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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