Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – August 2020 #2

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In Washington

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is planning to hold floor votes on unemployment benefits forcing Democrats to go on the record as coronavirus relief bill talks stall. Floor votes are a double-edged sword though, it could also show the divide among Senate Republicans on the issue. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Mike Braun (R-IN) have proposed that enhanced unemployment benefits match a recipient’s previous wages at a rate of two-thirds. Meanwhile, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Martha McSally (R-AZ) have introduced a measure that would provide either an 80 percent wage replacement, or if states choose, a flat weekly amount of US$500 per week in August, declining to US$400 in September and US$300 in October.
  • President Trump said the coronavirus death toll “is what it is” during an interview on 28 July with Axios on HBO that aired Monday. The president also said the COVID-19 pandemic is “under control as much as you can control it” in the U.S. even though infectious disease experts disagree. The interview put several of President Trump’s statements and reasoning under a microscope as Axios reporter Jonathan Swan continually followed up with questions to Trump’s responses. When Trump insisted on using the mortality rate to measure U.S. progress on the disease, Swan pointed out the data that Trump was referencing measured death as a proportion of cases instead of the proportion of the population, the commonly used denominator when performing comparisons with other countries. “That’s where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.” “You can’t do that,” Trump responded, prompting Swan to ask, “Why can’t I do that?” The president nonetheless maintained that the data should “go by the cases” to measure performance.
  • Airline unions and executives are pushing lawmakers for billions in additional aid to the airline industry as part of Phase 4 COVID-19 relief package. Airline ticket sales were down 79 percent last week from the same period in 2019. Lawmakers previously included US$32 billion for the airline industry in the CARES Act in March. A majority in the House members supports an extension, but there have been no guarantees it will be included in the package.
  • With fuel tax revenue down due to less travel and people staying home, states are increasingly worried that the coronavirus relief package won’t help them cover US$37 billion in budget shortfalls. Most states pay for their highways with federal support and a state gas tax. The House included US$15 billion for state departments of transportation in the bill it passed in May, currently-debated Senate proposals include no state aid and continues to be a sticking point in the current negotiations.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is starting two trials testing whether an experimental antibody drug can work as a safe and effective treatment in patients with COVID-19. The trials, ACTIV-2 and ACTIV-3, will look at drugmaker Eli Lilly’s experimental treatment known as LY-CoV555.
  • After delaying parts of the decennial census count due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Census Bureau announced Monday that it will end all counting efforts for the 2020 census on 30 September, a month sooner than previously planned. That includes critical door-knocking efforts and collecting responses online, over the phone and by mail. The in-person follow-up counting had already been pushed back due to pandemic-required social distancing.

In the News

  • In the U.S., there are at least 4,732,418 cases of coronavirus, and more than 155,942 people have died from the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
  • Governors of six states announced they were joining forces to purchase millions of virus tests and expand their testing capability as many states continue to struggle to keep up with the demand for tests. The governors of Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia are negotiating a purchase of three million antigen tests as part of the new compact, which was created by Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of medical device maker Abiomed’s Impella heart pump in combination with an oxygen machine for treating COVID-19 patients who are suffering from heart and lung failure.
  • Air travel is making a slow comeback. Airlines carried 2.3 million passengers this past weekend, up from 1.8 million in late June. The uptick comes during the traditional August travel season and follows the imposition of mask requirements by major U.S. airlines in June.
  • The U.S. lacks a national plan to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine reaches communities of color especially hard-hit by the virus, federal officials and private sector leaders are warning. African-Americans report plans to get vaccinated at lower rates than other groups, stemming in part from historical instances of non-consensual medical experimentation on people of color,
  • Five people at an event attended by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last week have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the vice president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association. An attendee told the association they had tested positive for the virus a day after the event, according to the Florida Sheriff’s Association.
  • Two polls show Americans continue to back more robust COVID-19 public health measures as the virus spreads to new parts of the country. A new Hill-HarrisX poll finds that 82 percent of registered voters in a 26-27 July survey said they’d support a national mandate to wear facial coverings, including 61 percent who “strongly” back the idea. Meanwhile, 65 percent of respondents to an NPR-Ipsos poll out Tuesday say that the U.S. is handling the pandemic “somewhat worse” or “much worse” than other countries.

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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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