Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – September # 15

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In Washington

  • Washington is still skeptical whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) calls for her committees to redraft a "scaled back" coronavirus relief package will result in any meaningful talks and eventually a deal with Senate Republicans. The House could vote on the as-yet-unreleased US$2.4 trillion bill as soon as next week if GOP cooperation doesn't materialize, according to Democratic lawmakers. Most see the new draft as a messaging bill to appease the moderates in her caucus pressuring the Speaker to pass new legislation.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Azar told FOX News that he was very optimistic about where the U.S. was headed in terms of vaccine progress with all six of the vaccines being developed now in industrial-scale manufacturing. "We believe that by the end of December, we will have as many as 100 million doses of vaccine that would be FDA approved." Azar also praised Operation Warp Speed as a game-changer in drug development by allowing the government to drive faster development by eliminating drug companies' financial risk. On Wednesday, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci also shared optimism, telling a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that scientists will find one or more safe and effective vaccines by the end of the year or early 2021. He told the panel that the U.S. could have enough vaccine doses - about 700 million - by April. With a safe vaccine, Fauci said "the U.S. can start thinking about getting back to some form of normality" toward "the middle to end of 2021."
  • In a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on 24 September, FBI Director Christopher Wray said China poses the "greatest counterintelligence threat" to the U.S., describing "very aggressive activity" by Chinese hackers to interfere with U.S.-led COVID-19 research. "We are seeing very aggressive activity by the Chinese, and in some cases by others, to target our COVID-related research, whether it's vaccines, treatments, testing technology, etc."
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now projects between 214,000 to 226,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. by 17 October. That is a slight improvement from last week's forecast, which projected up to 218,000 coronavirus deaths by 10 October. According to a count by Johns Hopkins University, the coronavirus has killed 202,800 Americans as of Friday morning.
  • A federal court in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday ordered the White House to include sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings starting 1 October. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, an Obama appointee, ordered an American Sign Language interpreter for any coronavirus-related briefing conducted by the President, Vice President, or White House Press Secretary held on White House grounds or at any federal agency. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and five deaf plaintiffs had sued the White House arguing the omission of sign language interpreters violated, among other laws, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  • Americans have requested more than 28 million ballots amid a surge in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, with another 43 million set to be automatically mailed to voters, according to a CNN survey of 42 states and Washington, D.C. All told, the total number of pre-election ballots due to be distributed already exceeds the roughly 50 million pre-Election Day ballots cast in 2016. However, not all those ballots will be returned and requests do not necessarily predict an outcome.
  • The first presidential debate will focus on six main topics, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Tuesday. The 29 September debate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, will feature six 15-minutes segments including "COVID-19" and "The Economy," among others. Chris Wallace of Fox News will moderate.

In the News

  • Confirmed COVID-19 cases have begun to rise over the past two weeks nationwide as Americans venture back to school, work, bars, and restaurants. The U.S.has averaged about 40,000 new cases a day over the past week, up from a recent low of about 34,000 cases a day earlier this month. That's about the same number as in June. The average daily death toll is about 700, the same level as early July.
  • The American public's evaluation of economic conditions has improved somewhat, though is still overall negative. 64 percent of Americans say the economy is worse now than it was a year ago, according to a new survey released Thursday by the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project. In June, that figure was 73 percent.
  • The Pac-12 college football conference will begin a seven-game season on 6 November. The conference's university presidents unanimously voted to withdraw a moratorium on athletics after securing daily COVID-19 testing for athletes. Some state officials in California and Oregon also signed off on the return. Men's and women's basketball will begin 25 November, while the football championship is slated for 18 December. On-campus sporting events will be played without fans present.
  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and first lady Pamela Northam have tested positive for COVID-19, the governor's office announced. The Northams were tested Thursday afternoon after learning that a member of their official residence staff "who works closely within the couple's living quarters" had tested positive for the virus on Wednesday. They said they will isolate for 10 days and evaluate their symptoms, per state health guidelines.
  • Rio de Janeiro has canceled its annual Carnival parade for the first time in a century because of Brazil's continued struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil has the second-worst death toll worldwide behind the U.S. with 139,000 dead.

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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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