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Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Update

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09/09/2020

Congress

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a new version of COVID-19 relief legislation. The bill provides less total funding than the previous Republican proposal, the HEALS Act. The new bill provides small businesses, extends enhanced unemployment benefits and provides legal liability protections.
    • The Senate could vote on the bill this week. It is not expected to receive support from any Democrats. If passed by the Senate, the Democrat-controlled House will not consider the legislation. The bill is intended to serve as a new marker for Republicans in negotiations on a bipartisan bill negotiated with Democrats.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reached an informal agreement on a short-term extension of federal funding before federal funding expires after September 30th. Details of the funding extension are not yet known but it appears the two parties will exclude controversial policy riders that could jeopardize an extension. Vice President Pence also acknowledged the agreement.
  • The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that the federal deficit will reach $3.3 trillion for FY 2020 and will add $13 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years. Additionally, the federal deficit could exceed US GDP in 2021.
    • The CBO issued a second report on the Medicare and Social Security trust funds that shows the trust fund for Medicare Part A could become insolvent in four years.

White House and Federal Agencies

  • The White House said a vaccine could be approved as early as October and is pushing back against critics that it will exert political pressure to announce a vaccine approval before the November election, potentially with fewer data than it usually uses for approvals.
    • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said the FDA will consult with outside experts to evaluate COVID-19 data ahead of anticipated approvals.
    • Commissioner Hahn also emailed the entire FDA staff to reiterate that the agency will not be influenced by political pressures when making vaccine approval determinations.
    • The CEOs of nine companies that are developing COVID-19 vaccines issued a statement that they will not submit phase three trial result data to the FDA for final vaccine approval until the data set is complete. They will not submit a preliminary partial data set. This will avoid the FDA approving a vaccine before it has the complete data set.
  • White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany clarified that the Administration is not considering a controversial strategy to reach “herd immunity” by mass exposure to the virus.
  • The Federal Reserve has acquired over $1 trillion in mortgage bonds since March.
  • The Fed published its newest edition of its “beige book.” This report summarizes anecdotal economic observations from the Fed’s regional branches. According to the Fed, economic activity increased among most Districts, but gains were generally modest and activity remained well below levels prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together on the Rural Telehealth Initiative, a joint effort to collaborate and share information to address health disparities, resolve service provider challenges, and promote broadband services and technology to rural areas.
  • HHS released the Rural Action Plan, the first HHS-wide assessment of rural healthcare efforts in more than 18 years and the product of HHS’s Rural Task Force.
  • With many colleges and universities experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is urging students to remain on campus rather than risk infecting others by travelling home.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins wrote a blog on a study that ties COVID-19 related syndrome in kids to altered immune system.
  • NIH has launched a study to track the prevalence and impact of SARS-CoV-2 infection among approximately 16,000 pregnant women in seven low- and middle-income countries.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Updates

Reopening, Testing, Treatments and Vaccines

  • The National Academies of Science (National Academies) released a draft framework of a plan for how the federal government should prioritize distributing COVID-19 vaccines once vaccines are approved. 
  • The White House’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine development initiative says that a vaccine is on track for FDA approval by the end of 2020.
    • Dr. Anthony Fauci also predicts a safe and effective vaccine will be available by the end of the year.
    • The CDC is hoping to begin distributing COVID-19 vaccines to states by November 1st.
  • New studies show that the steroid dexamethasone improves survival chances from COVID-19 infection.
  • The FDA updated its guidance, “Investigational COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma,” to provide additional information related to the recently issued Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19. In addition, the agency updated the web page, “Recommendations for Investigational COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma,” which also provides this information.
    • The FDA’s EUA for convalescent plasma treatment was controversial because some leaders within the NIH did not agree that the available data supported a EUA.
    • The NIH released a statement on the FDA’s EUA for convalescent plasma. The COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel (the Panel) reviewed the available evidence from published and unpublished data on convalescent plasma for the treatment for COVID-19, including the FDA analyses that supported the EUA. As noted, NIH Director Collins says the NIH Panel’s assessment mirror FDA’s conclusions.
  • AstraZeneca began Phase III clinical trials on its COVID-19 vaccine candidate AZD1222. The trial is funded by the Biomedical Advanced Development Authority (BARDA). However, reports indicate that the study has been halted to analyze a potential adverse reaction.
    • AstraZeneca is partnering with other companies to increase its vaccine production capacity.

Congressional Hearings

  • Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams and National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins will testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on COVID-19 vaccine development. The hearing is on September 9th at 10 a.m.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology will hold a hearing on September 9th on how COVID-19 impacts university research.
  • On September 9th, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the Federal Reserve’s Emergency Lending Facilities.
  • On September 9th, the House Small Business Committee will hold a hearing on the challenges and opportunities for small businesses presented by innovations in financial technology (“Fintech”), with a focus on access to capital.
    • On September 10th, the Small Business Committee’s Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade, and Entrepreneurship Subcommittee will hold a hearing on small businesses and the economic recovery.
  • On September 10th, the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on financial aid for states and territories.