Coronavirus Update
November 19, 2020
Information and resources on federal responses to the coronavirus crisis for state, local, and regional government.
Top News
Talks on a coronavirus relief measure still appear stalled. Despite separate statements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and President Trump regarding their desires to moving forward with a bill, no one has made a revised offer. Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote a letter to Majority Leader McConnell on Tuesday evening urging him to meet with them to negotiate a relief bill, but a meeting has not yet taken place. Democratic calls for talks with Majority Leader McConnell followed the White House and President Donald Trump pulling back from their involvement after months of negotiations failed to yield compromise legislation.

On Monday, Moderna Inc. said its experimental vaccine was 94.5 percent effective at protecting people from the coronavirus. The news comes a week after Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said their vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in clinical trials. As reported by NPR, Pfizer and Moderna are still gathering safety data the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said is necessary for consideration of an emergency use authorization that would allow the companies to distribute the vaccine. The approval process is only expected to take a matter of weeks, with the FDA tentatively scheduled to meet on December 8-10 to discuss the vaccines, which means vaccine distribution might begin in December.

Many are expressing concern about the logistical challenges of distributing the vaccines in addition to concerns about the lack of funding and guidance needed to distribute the vaccines effectively. President-elect Joe Biden and his Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board have also expressed concern that the Trump Administration’s unwillingness to allow the transition process to move forward is hindering their planning efforts in multiple ways, from addressing mask shortages to preparing for vaccine distribution.

As of this morning, more than 11.6 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and over 250,000 have died, according to the New York Times. As case numbers rise, state and local governments are implementing a patchwork of restrictions and mandates to slow the spread of the virus. News agencies like USA Today and the New York Times are tracking the varying restrictions being implemented across the country.  

Capitol Hill. The House and Senate both are in session this week for the first time since October 1 and there are several hearings regarding COVID-19. On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection held a hearing to “examine the American manufacturing industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the production of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other equipment and goods essential to the nation’s public health efforts.”

On Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on “Early Outpatient Treatment: An Essential Part of a COVID-19 Solution”. The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance held a hearing on “Insuring against a Pandemic: Challenges and Solutions for Policyholders and Insurers,” including a discussion of the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020 (H.R. 7011) which creates a federal backstop for businesses that experience losses and events that are canceled following a pandemic.

The House also passed several bills this week, by voice vote, regarding COVID-19, including:

  • Combating Pandemic Scams Act of 2020 (H.R. 6435): requires the Federal Trade Commission to inform the public about scams related to COVID-19, disseminate information on reporting COVID-19 scams, and establish a national database for such information;
  • Pandemic Effects on Home Safety and Tourism Act (H.R. 8121): requires the Consumer Product Safety Commission to study and report to Congress on the effects of the COVID–19 pandemic on injuries and deaths associated with consumer products and directs the Commerce Department to conduct a study and report to Congress on the effects of the COVID–19 pandemic on travel and tourism in the U.S.;
  • Securing America From Epidemics Act (H.R. 6334), which authorizes U.S. participation in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiatives, which is seeking to develop, produce, and distribute vaccines for emerging infectious disease, including COVID-19.

Please visit our TFG Coronavirus Legislative Trackers public health & safety, local government relief, and business assistance for detailed information on recently introduced bills.

Administration. HHS announced partnerships with large chain pharmacies and networks that represent independent pharmacies and regional chains to increase access to the COVID vaccine once available. Through the partnership with pharmacy chains, this program covers approximately 60 percent of pharmacies throughout the US and its territories. 

Treasury and the IRS released guidance today clarifying the tax treatment of expenses where a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan has not been forgiven by the end of the year the loan was received. Since businesses are not taxed on the proceeds of a forgiven PPP loan, the expenses are not deductible. This results in neither a tax benefit nor tax harm since the taxpayer has not paid anything out of pocket. If a business reasonably believes that a PPP loan will be forgiven in the future, expenses related to the loan are not deductible, whether the business has filed for forgiveness or not. Therefore, the agencies encourage businesses to file for forgiveness as soon as possible. In the case where a PPP loan was expected to be forgiven, and it is not, businesses will be able to deduct those expenses.

HUD announced $86.85 million is available to public housing agencies (PHAs) in the form of Mainstream funding vouchers to assist non-elderly populations impacted by Coronavirus. Mainstream Vouchers are administered using the same rules as other housing choice vouchers but targeted to serve a special population to ensure residents of low-income housing, including those with unique circumstances, receive necessary funding to protect their health and safety against COVID-19.

OSHA reports it has issued 204 citations arising from inspections for violations relating to coronavirus, resulting in proposed penalties totaling $2,856,533. The agency also updated its FAQ noting OSHA does not believe enough information is currently available to determine if a particular cloth face covering provides sufficient protection to be “personal protective equipment” under OSHA’s standard. The Hill reports NIH director Francis Collins urged the public to abide by safety guidelines, wear masks, and socially distance.

As reported yesterday in TFG’s Transportation Notes, CDC reported air passenger screening methods for COVID-19 are ineffective. “Passenger entry screening was resource-intensive with low yield of laboratory-diagnosed COVID-19 cases (one case per 85,000 travelers screened). Contact information was missing for a substantial proportion of screened travelers in the absence of manual data collection.” The report notes that “symptom-based screening programs are ineffective because of nonspecific clinical presentation and asymptomatic cases.”

The CDC released a new report saying that programs meant to detect coronavirus cases among air travelers have been ineffective. Specifically, the CDC looked at the protocols implemented at selected airports to check temperatures and monitor symptoms among travelers. Results from the programs, which were carried out over a nine-month span, showed that the CDC was able to identify roughly one active case of COVID-19 per 85,000 travelers screened. “Symptom-based screening programs are ineffective because of the nonspecific clinical presentation of COIVD-19 and asymptomatic cases,” the report stated.

DOL reports initial unemployment insurance claims totaled 742,000, an increase of 31,000 from the previous week. The 4-week moving average was 742,000, a decrease of 13,750 from the previous week's revised average.  The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 4.3 percent for the week ending November 7, a decrease of 0.3 percent.
Industry & Advocacy
NLC is calling on congressional COVID-19 negotiators to deliver critical assistance to American communities before 2021. “We are deeply concerned that, with only 43 days until key programs and the few remaining CARES Act funds for state and local governments expire, negotiations over a new COVID-19 relief package have completely stalled in Congress,” stated NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony.

Pfizer is starting a pilot program to deliver its experimental vaccine to four U.S. states. The company chose Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico and Tennessee to participate in its pilot program due to the states’ overall sizes, diversity of populations, immunization infrastructure and need to reach both urban and rural communities. “We are hopeful that results from this vaccine delivery pilot will serve as the model for other U.S. states and international governments, as they prepare to implement effective COVID-19 vaccine programs,” the company said in a statement.

The Century Foundation (TCF) released estimates that show 12 million workers will be on one of the two main CARES Act programs – Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) – when funding for them expires on December 26, 2020. TCF estimated a total of more than 16 million workers will have lost CARES Act benefits by the end of the year. In addition to the 12 million workers who will see their benefits expire on December 26, an estimated 4.4 million workers will have exhausted CARES Act benefits before the December 26 cutoff.

FDA authorized the first prescription at-home coronavirus test. The test, developed by Lucira Health, can be used for people who are at least 14 years old when their health provider suspects they have COVID-19. The test involves swabbing the inside of the nose, placing the swab in a vial and swirling it before putting the vial in a “test unit.” The test should cost less than $50 and will be available first through Sutter Health in Northern California and Cleveland Clinic Florida in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale. By spring 2021, it will be available nationally.

Groups representing clean water utilities, including the American Water Works Association and National Rural Water Association, sent a letter to Congress outlining their priorities for funding in the next pandemic relief package. Along with other priorities the group urged Congress to avoid a national moratorium on water service disconnection.

The Business Roundtable (BRT) is calling for a national mask mandate and action on a federal relief bill. BRT President Joshua Bolten, said the government needs to issue clear safety guidelines for businesses, implement a national testing strategy, and reengage with the World Health Organization.

The National Restaurant Association sent a letter to the National Governors Association this week urging them to avoid indoor dining closures when making decisions to scale back businesses while coronavirus cases are spiking. “Shutting down indoor dining should be considered a last option. If a shutdown is mandated, restaurants should be recognized as essential businesses and remain open for off-premise sales (take out, delivery, etc.), as well as outdoor dining.”

The SeaDream Yacht Club, the first cruise vessel to resume sailing in the Caribbean after the pandemic shut down operations in March, announced that it is canceling the rest of its 2020 cruises in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak on board one of its ships. Seven guests and two crew members tested positive.

Costco updated its face covering policy to require people with a medical exemption from wearing a mask to wear a face shield in the store.
Webinars, Events and Resources
NACo Webinar: COVID-19 Testing Solution Available Through NACo/CVS Health Partnership
November 20, 1:30 – 2:30 PM ET

USCM Webinar: City Fiscal Tracking and Reimbursement #5: CDBG and CARES Act
December 2, 2:00 – 3:00 PM ET

CRS Reports of interest:
For more information please contact Mike Miller: (707) 224-8648