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Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – July 7, 2020

Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines provided by the Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs team.

In Washington:

  • The White House moved forward with officially withdrawing the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO).  The withdrawal would not go into effect until July 6, 2021.  Sen. Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said that the administration has informed Congress of its plans to withdraw from the organization. Menendez tweeted, “To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic & incoherent doesn’t do it justice. This won’t protect American lives or interests — it leaves Americans sick & America alone.”
  • White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reiterated Monday that the President  been “very clear that he’s supportive of another stimulus check.”  Meadows said that a payroll deduction and incentives for U.S. manufacturers are two critical components that the president is asking for the legislation to address.   Meadows says he is in constant daily contact with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as he negotiates a Phase four stimulus deal with members in the House and Senate.
  • The Trump administration e is adding pressure on local officials to resume in-person learning at schools.  A senior official said today that despite the spike in coronavirus cases, it is safe for schools to reopen with protections in place for vulnerable students and staff.  The official said that schools are considered “high-priority settings” that are important for the well-being of communities and families and told reporters that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages schools to make plans to reopen.  The official added that the CDC never recommended that they close in the first place. ”Our country has got to get back, and it’s got to get back as soon as possible. And I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed,” the president said in the White House press release.
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci said today that the President’s recent focus on the coronavirus’s decreasing mortality rate in the U.S. is “false narrative.”  On July 6 that the United States’ handle on the coronavirus outbreak is “really not good” and that action is needed to curb the spread.  In an interview via Facebook Live, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said, “We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this. And I would say, this would not be considered a wave. It was a surge, or a resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline.”  Fauci said some of the new cases are linked to cities and states who may have reopened too quickly.  
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released guidance saying it will deport international students on F-1 and M-1 visas if universities and colleges go online.   In a statement, the U.S Department of State said it will not “issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the U.S.”  This could affect more than 1.1 million students in the country. 
  • The Trump Administration will pay the Maryland based vaccine maker Novavax $1.6 billion to develop 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine by early 2021 as part of Operation Warp Speed.  This is the largest government contract given to a vaccine maker to date. Operation Warp Speed has also given federal assistance to British drugmaker AstraZenca, as well as U.S. companies Moderna Therapeutics, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Sanofi for their experimental coronavirus vaccines.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines have all signed letters of intent agreeing to federal government loan terms to assist with their recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.  The aviation companies join five other airlines that signed up for assistance last week under the CARES Act.  The airlines have until the end of September to decide whether they will access the loans. The companies are barred from cutting their employment levels more than 10 percent from their March 24 levels and are required to provide stock warrants in exchange for the loans.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency approved two Lysol products that will kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces.  These two products are the first to be directly tested against COVID-19 viral particles.

 In the News:

  • Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for coronavirus.   Bolsonaro, has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the virus and interacted with crowds of supporters in spite of social distancing advice. 
  • Quest and LabCorp, two of the U.S.’s largest coronavirus testing labs, are warning that there are delays in delivering coronavirus test results due to the surge in demand, including outbreaks in the South and West.  Both labs are essentially doubling the time it will take for them to report results.  Quest saying it will not take 4-6 days to give results and LabCorp 2 to 4 days.  The situation is compounded with appointment availability in some hotspot backlogged as long as a week.  The prolonged turnaround time also greatly hinders public health responses and has made contract tracing ineffective.
  • Amid the pressure of hundreds of experts, the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged the “emerging evidence” of airborne transmission of the coronavirus and has agreed to review its guidance on the spread of the coronavirus.   The organization has had an active engagement with the scientists who wrote the letter on airborne transmission and is planning to release its recommendations in the next few days. 
  • A Philadelphia nursing home gave some veterans what they called a “covid cocktail” that included hydroxychloroquine without coronavirus testing.   The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said about 30 residents received the drug, but several nursing home staff members placed the number higher.
  • Michigan’s attorney general has joined several other state prosecutors in a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over a policy they say would take CARES Act funding from public schools in need and redirecting it to private schools. 
  • The Florida Department of Education has ordered that all Florida schools must reopen for in-person classes this fall.  According to the plan released Monday evening, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools in August at least five days per week for all students.