Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, November 2020 # 3

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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:

  • The federal government’s role in physically distributing COVID-19 vaccines remains unclear. President Trump said last month that the military would distribute vaccines. But a spokesman for Operation Warp Speed responded by saying that the Defense Department (DOD) would oversee logistics from a distance and not handle vaccines. A DOD spokesperson reiterated that position to CQ Roll Call but added possible exceptions such as delivering vaccines to a remote location. A review by CQ Roll Call of 16 states’ COVID-19 vaccination plans indicates that at least nine expect to incorporate state National Guard units under governors’ control. Meanwhile, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) have called for hearings on the issue, writing that the organizational structure of Operation Warp Speed, dominated by members of the military, is a “stark departure” from prior public health crises.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield says this is the right time to develop a strategy to better detect asymptomatic cases. "Now is the time to develop a testing strategy to maximize our ability to identify the silent epidemic of asymptomatic COVID-19 infections," Redfield tweeted Wednesday. By the CDC's estimate, 40 percent of people with COVID-19 show no symptoms. Redfield's tweet described a weekend meeting with fellow White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to discuss testing and mitigation efforts in Utah. On Tuesday, Utah was among 21 states that saw their peak seven-day average for new daily cases.
  • Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) knocked President Trump's frequent refusal to wear or recommend wearing masks to combat the spread of COVID-19. DeWine told NPR, "I certainly wish the president had a more happy relationship with masks," adding, "[w]e now know that these masks really work." The White House did not immediately return The Hill’s request for comment on DeWine’s remarks. While Ohio Democrats have praised DeWine’s pandemic policies, a handful of Republicans moved in August to impeach DeWine, calling his public health measures “far worse than the virus itself." Just over 230,000 cases and 5,400 deaths have been recorded from COVID-19 in Ohio.
  • A ninth U.S. service member has died from the coronavirus, according to Pentagon data released Wednesday. Spokespeople at the Pentagon and National Guard Bureau said the service member was a Texas Air National Guardsman. The newly revealed death is the military’s first COVID-19 fatality since late September, when a 48-year-old reservist from Kentucky died. In total, the Pentagon has reported 58,968 cases among service members, 39,012 of whom have recovered and 755 of whom have been hospitalized over the course of the pandemic.

In the News:

  • The U.S. recorded 102,831 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. It’s the first time cases have topped 100,000 in a single day.
  • Several states are tightening safety precautions in an effort to slow the surge of COVID-19 cases. Maine Governor Janet Mills (D) announced a new executive order on face masks that strengthens a previous mandate already in place, requiring people to wear a face-covering in public regardless of their ability to physically distance. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) announced a handful of new restrictions across the state. Beginning Sunday, a new stay-at-home advisory will impose a curfew on residents for the next two weeks. Businesses, including restaurants, bars, gyms, recreational facilities, and personal services must also close at certain times during those two weeks.
  • First-time claims for unemployment insurance continued to trend lower last week, with the Labor Department reporting 751,000 workers filing for benefits, compared with 758,000 the week before.
  • Airbnb plans to file for its initial public offering as early next week, Reuters reported. The IPO filing will shed light on how the U.S. home rental company has reinvented itself after the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to shift focus from city apartments to holiday home rentals.
  • The Federal Reserve held short-term borrowing rates near zero on Thursday, characterizing the economy as growing but still well below pre-pandemic levels. The Fed cut its benchmark interest rate to a range between 0-0.25 percent seven months ago, and reaffirmed that target at its latest meeting.
  • AstraZeneca says it expects data on its experimental coronavirus vaccine to be available by the end of the year. “Results from late-stage trials are anticipated later this year, depending on the rate of infection within the communities where the clinical trials are being conducted,” AstraZeneca said as it released its latest earnings.
  • The UK government will extend government wage assistance for businesses until March next year in light of the worsening coronavirus pandemic and England's second lockdown. “The government will continue to help pay people’s wages up to 80% of the normal amount” in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, British finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Thursday.

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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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