Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – September 2020 # 6

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In Washington

  • The House of Representatives returns from recess this week to join the Senate colleagues for the final work period before they adjourn in mid-October for the November elections. The likelihood of a deal on a coronavirus bill continues to fade as Congress turns its focus on developing a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded past 30 September. As reported last week, it is expected that moderate Democrats in red-leaning states will likely continue to pressure the Leadership for targeted individual bills to provide relief, despite their earlier rejections of the idea.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday that federal lawmakers should prioritize more COVID-19 relief over deficit anxieties, saying “[n]ow is not the time to worry about shrinking the deficit or shrinking the Fed balance sheet.” Mnuchin credited expansionary fiscal and monetary policy with keeping the economy afloat. He also talked up the possibility of a relief deal, reiterated that “I’m available any time to negotiate” with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and said he expects the House centrist “Problem Solvers Caucus” to produce a stimulus proposal later Monday.
  • President Trump’s appointees interfered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) weekly scientific reports on Covid-19. Emails from Health and Human Services (HHS) communications aides to CDC Director Robert Redfield reveal appointees complaining that agency’s reports would contradict the president’s more optimistic rhetoric about the pandemic. CDC officials have, in some cases, allowed HHS aide reviews to influence the wording in reports. In some cases, the appointees allegedly blocked reports from being published, including one that said the benefits of hydroxychloroquine, “do not outweigh [the] risks.”
    • Reports of the meddling provoked outrage among health experts, Democrats, and some Republicans. House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) are demanding that HHS Secretary Alex Azar brief them immediately. Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, led by Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), said his committee is investigating the scope of political interference.
    • HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo and his scientific advisor, Paul Alexander, continue to defend their moves. On Sunday, Caputo claimed that the CDC has a “resistance unit” aimed at undermining Trump and the weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports required review because the career scientists "haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops” to plot “how they’re going to attack Donald Trump.”
  • President Trump held an indoor campaign rally in Nevada on 13 September despite federal guidelines and public health experts advising against large indoor gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. The President’s campaign also violated the state’s rules to hold the rally. A majority of the crowd did not wear masks and were seated close together.
  • The Trump administration is attempting to create an untested data tracking system for its vaccine program. The administration paid 16 million for a sole-source contract with Deloitte, using Salesforce technology, to schedule, track, and manage vaccine supplies. The “Administration Management System” is designed to bypass the more standard state tracking systems that have been used for immunization programs. The possibility of new complications has several state officials concerned especially following the botched rollout of the new system to track hospital coronavirus cases. CDC claims that they must create a new system because states have “inconsistent and disparate capabilities” to support and disseminate the data in real-time.
  • Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alzar regarding testing capacity challenges for schools, colleges, and universities. The letter shares his concerns about these institutions having the capability to test and respond to the public health crisis. Durbin noted troubling incidents of HHS’s “sudden and haphazard intervention” to cut in front of two IL universities’ purchases of tests from the manufacturer Quidel, therefore, delaying their testing plan. Durbin is asking Alzar to respond to questions about the purchases and how the Department plans to support the testing needs and provide the shortfall of supplies to the schools.

In the News

  • The coronavirus has infected over 6.52 million and killed over 194,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins.
  • The World Health Organization on 14 September reported a record one-day increase in the number of global coronavirus cases, rising by over 307,000 in 24 hours, with the most significant spikes in India, the United States, and Brazil.
  • UK drugmaker AstraZeneca announced that it will resume its coronavirus vaccine trial in the UK, although not the U.S. after it paused its trials last week when a participant developed a neurological illness.
  • Eli Lilly said on Monday that its rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib, branded as Olumiant, shortened the time taken to recover from COVID-19 in hospitalized patients when taken in combination with Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir. Together the two drugs showed a roughly one-day reduction in median recovery time versus patients treated with remdesivir alone. The trial tested over 1,000 patients. Lilly said it plans to discuss a potential emergency use authorization (EUA) with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Delta Air Lines said Monday that it will borrow US$6.5 billion backed by its frequent-flyer program in order to shore up its liquidity during the coronavirus crisis. The airline plans to sell senior secured notes and enter into a new term loan, both backed by its SkyMiles program. SkyMiles will lend the net proceeds of the bond offering to Delta. Delta said last week that it had about US$16 billion in cash at the end of June and that it was burning around US$27 million a day. United and American Airlines have announced similar plans using their mileage programs.
  • The world’s largest vaccine manufacturer warns that if the COVID-19 vaccine needs two doses, the world won’t have enough until 2024. Most vaccines currently being studied will require at least two doses spaced approximately a month apart. Health experts say that there are graduated steps to start controlling the virus and achieve herd immunity, which would involve first vaccinating particular groups and working toward 60-70 percent of the population to start achieving herd immunity.

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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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