Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, February 25 2021

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

In Washington:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that gym users should wear masks when exercising, even if they are more than six feet apart, and gyms need to improve ventilation. A new agency report cites outbreaks at gyms in Chicago and Honolulu tied to inadequate mask-wearing, lack of physical distancing, and poor ventilation, even when the facilities opened with limited capacity. High-intensity spin or cycling classes were particularly risky despite precautions, likely due to infected instructors’ shouting.
  • The Biden administration is planning to start providing states with estimates of their expected vaccine shipments months in advance rather than just weeks. The longer planning timeline should allow states and local communities to better plan for distribution.  The move also shows the administration’s growing confidence in vaccine maker’s ability to produce and deliver doses to increase the government’s supply in the coming weeks.
  • The Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled Thursday that Democrats would be deemed out of order if they include a $15 minimum wage hike in their coronavirus relief package.  The ruling is a blow to Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and progressives that are major proponents of the measure. The language is currently included in the version the House plans to take up on Friday, but the parliamentary ruling means it will need to be stripped in the Senate. 
  • On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it is allowing Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine vials to be transported and stored at normal pharmaceutical freezer temperatures for up to two weeks.  Previously, Pfizer had advised that the vaccine had to be stored at ultra-low temperatures but recently submitted data supporting the alternative temperature for transportation and storage.
  • The first “real-world” study of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be independently reviewed shows the vaccine is highly effective at preventing coronavirus.  The study of 1.2 million people who have received two doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine shows the vaccine to be just short of the 95% efficacy demonstrated in controlled clinical trials.  
  • The FDA is expected to authorize the emergency use of Johnson & Johnson's COVID vaccine this weekend. The Biden administration says initial deliveries of 3 million to 4 million of the vaccine doses would start as early as next week.
  • The CDC has launched a “VaccineFinder” website to assist with providing listings of nearby stores and pharmacies offering vaccine shots and the status of appointment availability.  
  • Ways and Means Republican Leader Kevin Brady (R-TX), Health Subcommittee Republican Leader Devin Nunes (R-CA), and Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) sent a letter to HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran seeking a briefing from the agency and relevant sub-agencies regarding its role in collecting state government data reporting regarding COVID-19 related deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The Republican lawmakers are investigating whether the state of New York deliberately provided false data to the federal government and to the public.

In the News:

  • After six straight weeks of declines in new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., that number has started to plateau, even as hospitalizations and deaths continue to drop. The seven-day average of daily new cases was just over 72,000 on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, a total that is relatively unchanged from last Thursday. The spread of new, more easily transmitted coronavirus variants may be driving the trend. Experts say it’s too soon to tell whether the plateau is a blip.
  • Vaccine manufacturers are announcing more research to determine how to handle the coronavirus variants now proliferating worldwide. Pfizer and BioNTech said Thursday they are studying whether the South African variant will require an updated vaccine or instead whether a third shot of their already-existing vaccine will protect against variants. Moderna said Wednesday that it has sent doses of an updated vaccine against the South African variant to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) for study.
  • Online COVID-19 vaccination sign-ups in Washington, D.C. on Thursday morning ran into widespread technical problems. Thursday was the first day of eligibility for people under 65 with underlying conditions. Residents reported delays and inaccurate messages saying they were ineligible for shots. The District health department said it’s working on a solution. Vincent Gray, a D.C. council member and former mayor, called the problems “unacceptable,” adding that he pressed the health department to solve the problems.
  • FedEx and UPS tell Bloomberg News that they plan to increase their distribution of coronavirus vaccines by 40 percent next week. Wes Wheeler, the head of UPS’s health care unit, said the courier service will increase the number of doses it handles per week from 10 million now to 14 million next week. Distribution will likely peak in May at 1.4 million shipments per day. Wheeler said that even at peak distribution, the vaccines will only account for about 6 percent of UPS’s 24.7 million daily package deliveries.

Authored by Ivan Zapien

Ivan Zapien
Washington, D.C.
Shelley Castle
Legislative Specialist
Washington, D.C.


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