Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, October 2020 # 10

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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:

  • State public health officials are urging Congress to provide at least $8.4 billion in emergency funding for distributing a coronavirus vaccine, warning that they lack enough money to carry out the immense logistical effort. So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has distributed only $200 million to states for vaccination efforts. Two groups representing state officials told congressional leaders in a letter that more is needed. But there is no clear path for Congress to provide that funding yet, given that lawmakers have been mired in disagreement for months over the next coronavirus relief package.
  • President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s Thursday night TV town halls touched on the coronavirus pandemic. On NBC’s event, the president defended his record on addressing the pandemic, repeating his continual assessment that the country is “rounding the corner” on the virus. The President declined to recommend mask-wearing, saying catching coronavirus had not changed his mind on the subject, continuing a break with his top public health officials’ mask recommendations. He neither definitively endorsed nor repudiated a controversial “herd immunity” strategy for beating the virus that his administration is reportedly touting, saying the “cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.” ABC’s event with Democratic nominee Joe Biden addressed the pandemic less than Trump’s event, but Biden criticized what he called Trump’s “panicked” response to the pandemic. The nominees meet for their second and final debate on October 22.
  • On Friday, President Trump announced an agreement with CVS and Walgreens a program to administer a future coronavirus vaccine to seniors and staff in long-term care facilities for free. Health and Human Services have not made a statement on the deal, but media sources report that the plan could change. There has been a question of whether Medicare could legally pay for vaccines that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration on an emergency basis.
  • President Trump continues to falsely claim that a CDC study shows that 85 percent of people wearing masks catch coronavirus. The study actually finds that people who wear masks more frequently are less likely to get the virus. The study’s findings were aimed at indoor eating and proved that if you tested positive for COVID-19, you were 2.5 times more likely to have eaten in a restaurant the two weeks prior where you take your masks off.
  • The nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned against throwing large celebrations for Thanksgiving, calling it "a risk" to gather in indoor settings with people from out-of-town. His own family, he shared, is canceling plans.
  • Centers for Medicare Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma announced that starting in 2021, Medicare will partially tie the amount they reimburse laboratories for performing COVID-19 tests to their ability to turn the results in two days or less. CMS will lower the base payment from $100 to $75. If the labs complete the testing under two days, they will receive a $25 add-on payment. But labs say that their quick turnaround time is contingent on their access to testing supplies which may be strained if the number of cases rises.

In the News:

  • The U.S. is nearing 8 million confirmed coronavirus cases according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The infection rate continues to rise and now stands at 7,982,291 infections. Midwest and Southwestern states are seeing some of the steepest increases in new cases, even surpassing daily infection records reported in the spring. The Dakotas, Montana, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, and New Mexico are among states with notably high and rising rates.
  • The antiviral drug remdesivir has little or no effect on mortality for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, according to a study sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO’s Solidarity Therapeutics Trial studied the effects of remdesivir and three other potential drug regimens in nearly 11,300 adults with COVID-19 in 405 hospitals across 30 countries. The results were released Thursday and have yet to be peer-reviewed. “Remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon regimens appeared to have little or no effect on 28-day mortality or the in-hospital course of COVID-19 among hospitalized patients,” the WHO said in a statement.
  • Pfizer, one of several companies working to develop a coronavirus vaccine, announced Friday that it and its German partner BioNTech plan to apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by late November. In a statement, Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said that as it runs late-stage trials for the potential COVID-19 vaccine, the group may know by the end of October whether the candidate is considered “effective,” meaning it can prevent COVID-19 in a majority of cases. The candidate would still have to be judged “safe” by regulators as well.
  • The Navy has discovered two new COVID-19 cases on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt six months after a coronavirus outbreak aboard the vessel launched a political scandal that included the acting Navy secretary’s resignation. The Navy identified “a small number of sailors” who tested positive at sea near San Diego on Thursday, according to Cmdr. Zach Harrell, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces. “The sailors...were transported off the ship for isolation,” Harrell said in a statement to The Hill. Contact tracing aboard the ship has been completed, he added.
  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was released from the hospital, where he spent over a week in the intensive care unit with COVID-19. In his first interview since contracting the virus, he said he was wrong for not wearing a mask at the White House event announcing SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett and preparing the President for the debates. Christie said President Trump needs to do more than just express approval of masks. “You know, I heard the president say last night that he has no problem with masks. I think we should be even more affirmative about it. That’s why I put out the statement I did,” Christie told host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s Good Morning America.

[View source.]

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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