COVID-19 Federal Responses: Friday, May 22
Congress is close to passing a bipartisan bill to ease some of the requirements for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The House and Senate each reached respective bipartisan agreements on legislation that would remove some of the limitations on the timeframe and use of PPP funding.
- Some of the details are still being finalized. For example, Congress is set to extend the time in which recipients must spend their funding beyond the current eight-week limit. However, it is not clear if the bill will extend the time to 16 or 24 weeks.
- The bill will also make it easier for recipients to convert their loans into grants if they cannot meet the current PPP requirements to maintain employment levels or rehire furloughed workers. The bill could also allow recipients to use PPP funding for purposes other than paying salaries, benefits, utilities, mortgage or rent payments.
- The House intends to vote on the bill during the week of Memorial Day. The Senate is in recess all week for the Memorial Day holiday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants to keep the next major COVID-19 relief bill below $1 trillion. President Trump expressed open support to more relief for Americans. Additionally, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) does not expect serious bipartisan negotiations to begin until the end of June, with final action before the August recess.
The House of Representatives will begin using its new proxy voting system next week.
On Wednesday, 5/27, the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on the effects of COVID-19 on minority communities.
On Thursday, May 28, the House Appropriations Military Construction-VA Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the VA’s response to COVID-19.
Also on Thursday, May 28, the House Small Business Committee will hold another virtual forum.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its information page about how the coronavirus spreads. Specifically, the CDC is now advising that the coronavirus spreads primarily from person to person contact and that “the virus does not spread easily in other ways” such as contact with surfaces. The CDC says it may still be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus is transmitted. The CDC notes that there is still much to be learned about this virus.
The CDC is also clarifying that some of its data on the number of performed COVID-19 tests are inaccurate because the figures did not differentiate between viral tests and antibody tests.
HHS and CMS
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is distributing $4.9 billion to nursing homes impacted by COVID-19. Every nursing home will receive a fixed distribution of $50,000, plus a distribution of $2,500 per bed.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued payment rates for new COVID-19 testing codes.
CMS announced its schedule of stakeholder calls for the week of May 25th.
Reopening, Vaccines and Treatments
President Trump is pressuring states to reopen places of worship.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams expressed confidence that we are in a better place to reopen than we were only a few weeks ago. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is ending the emergency use authorization (EUA) for 28 antibody tests due to accuracy issues with those tests and has published a FAQ on testing.
President Trump outlined how the government will handle future waves of COVID-19. He prefers a targeted approach that shuts down hotspots instead of shutting down the whole country.
National Institute of Allergy and Infection Disease Director Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed his cautious optimism about the vaccine under development by Moderna.
HHS is providing $1.2 billion to AstraZeneca to fund its development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Department of Defense is also trying to develop a vaccine. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he is optimistic the Department will develop a vaccine before the end of the year.
Members of the scientific community are asking for more information about Gilead Sciences’ highly touted clinical trial for its remdesivir treatment for COVID-19.