White House Unveils Testing Blueprint, Senate Slated to Return Monday, House Return Uncertain

President Trump unveiled the Administration's blueprint for state testing plans and rapid response programs on Monday, following the release of the Administration's three-phase guidelines for reopening on April 16. The blueprint, accompanied by an action plan, describes a partnership between federal, state, local and tribal governments, along with the private sector and professional associations, to continue to meet testing needs.

Under the plan, the federal government is working to (1) coordinate laboratory testing supplies and capacity with anticipated needs; (2) expedite regulatory authorizations for tests and equipment; (3) publish and update procedural guidance for administering tests; and (4) collaborate with the private sector to accelerate research and development of innovative diagnostic tests.

The blueprint puts state and local governments in the lead for implementing individual testing plans and rapid response programs, maximizing the use of all available testing platforms and venues, and identifying barriers to efficient testing. Particular emphasis is placed on state responsibility to monitor for, and respond to, local outbreaks by utilizing nationwide clinical monitoring systems and developing innovative systems to identify asymptomatic cases, such as through sentinel monitoring systems at critical locations.

As the Administration continues to release testing and other guidance, the Senate has also initiated plans to return to work next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) issued a statement on Monday regarding the upcoming Senate schedule, indicating that senators will return to Washington by May 4 to conduct business in person. The Majority Leader has particularly highlighted the need to expand and strengthen protections from "opportunistic" lawsuits as the Senate returns to work. Leader McConnell acknowledged that additional relief for state and local governments is likely to be part of the next package, but also laid down a clear marker for increasing lawsuit protections for businesses and health care providers who are operating on the front lines of the pandemic. The battle over legal reform is expected to be hotly contested, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have already pushed back on Leader McConnell's call for legal reform.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced today that with counsel from the Capitol physician, the House of Representatives will not return next week, indicating that they "hope to come back very soon."

As public officials at all levels of government continue to escalate their responses to the pandemic, the latest actions and developments may be found below. Akin Gump will continue to provide regular policy developments related to COVID-19.

President Trump Outlines Plans to Order Meat Plans to Remain Open

During an Oval Office meeting with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, President Trump indicated that he will sign an executive order today to guard meatpacking companies from legal liability over failing to protect workers from the coronavirus. The President plans to invoke the Defense Production Act to order meat processing plants to continue to operate and to provide additional protective gear for employees. The Administration is also working with the Department of Labor on guidance about which employees at meat processing facilities should remain home.

More States Take First Steps to Reopen; Others Announce Extensions of Emergency Measures

A number of states have announced initials steps to reopen their economies in response to the three-phase guidelines issued by the Administration on April 16:

  • Alabama: Gov. Kay Ivey announced today that the state's stay-at-home order would expire on April 30 and be replaced with a safer-at-home order until May 15. Certain retail businesses may reopen subject to sanitation and social distancing guidelines. Occupancy will be limited to 50 percent. Restaurants and bars are limited to takeout, delivery and curbside pickup.
  • Louisiana: Gov. John Bel Edwards extended the state's stay-at-home order through May 16 and stated that the state will begin reopening in three phases. Specifics of how the state would reopen were not released.
  • Minnesota: Gov. Tim Walz announced yesterday that workers who do not work in a critical sector but also cannot work from home may return to work under certain restrictions. Businesses must establish a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan before employees can return to work, including requiring work from home wherever possible, appropriate social distancing measures and other protective measures. The governor's restriction on other businesses remains intact until May 4, the end date of the current stay-at-home order.
  • Ohio: Gov. Mike DeWine announced yesterday that nonessential medical procedures may resume on May 1. Construction, manufacturing and distribution operations, as well as nonessential offices, may resume on May 4. Retailers and service companies may reopen on May 12. All businesses reopening must follow social distancing and hygiene requirements.
  • South Carolina: Gov. Henry McMaster declared a new state of emergency until May 12 to allow for the continued issuance of executive orders related to reopening.
  • Texas: Gov. Greg Abbot announced the state's stay-at-home order will expire April 30. Beginning May 1, businesses including movie theaters, barber shops, retail stores and malls can reopen at 25 percent capacity.

President Trump Delivers Remarks on Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

On Tuesday, April 28, President Trump delivered remarks on supporting the nation's small businesses through the PPP. Highlights of his remarks include:

  • President Trump discussed the PPP's role in providing emergency economic relief to American small businesses and workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He remarked that the worst days of the crisis are in the past and the country is looking forward to a safe and rapid reopening of businesses and the economy.
  • President Trump stated that within the first 14 days of the PPP, the Small Business Administration (SBA) processed as many loans as it would typically process in 14 years. He added that the swift actions of the Administration have supported or saved the jobs of at least 30 million Americans.
  • Ivanka Trump introduced eight small businesses owners who each spoke of their positive experience receiving loans through the PPP, which enabled them to rehire or maintain all of their employees and keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin highlighted the Administration's successful investments to protect America's small businesses and workers. He criticized large companies for inappropriately taking PPP loans and announced that any loan over $2 million will have a full review by the SBA before the company receives any loan forgiveness.
  • When asked about the possibility of another round of stimulus payments directly to American taxpayers, President Trump advocated for the idea of payroll tax cuts. Regarding any additional money for states, he stated that various issues, specifically sanctuary cities, would need to be discussed prior to distributing any funding.
  • President Trump stated that he is strongly considering requiring airlines to test passengers on international flights from highly impacted parts of the world, specifically mentioning South America. He added that responsibility for such testing will either be on the airlines, the government or a combination of the two.
  • President Trump explained that Majority Leader McConnell and many other Republican members would like to address infrastructure funding in a separate piece of legislation, rather than in combination with COVID-19 stimulus funding.
  • President Trump expressed support for the reopening of schools, especially by the start of the next scholastic year.

White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing Highlights

On Monday, April 27, the White House Coronavirus Task Force conducted a briefing from the White House Press Briefing Room. Highlights of the discussion included:

  • Administration officials announced a new plan to support and expand testing capacity across the country as states look to reopen their economies (see Testing Blueprint and Testing Overview Presentation).
  • The testing plan includes three core elements: robust diagnostic test plans, timely monitoring systems, and rapid response programs that include isolation and contact tracing.
  • Assistant Secretary for Health ADM Brett Giroir, M.D. stated that the United States should be able to more than double the current testing capacity by next month.
  • Vice President Mike Pence added that there is enough testing capacity to support every state entering Phase 1 of reopening.
  • Executives from Walmart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, Kroger, Thermo Fisher Scientific, LabCorp and U.S. Cotton spoke on the public-private testing partnership and their plans to expand testing sites and capacity.
  • To date, over 5.4 million COVID-19 tests have been performed in the United States.
  • President Trump suggested that governors may open up schools before other locations given the low risk that the virus poses for younger individuals.
  • The President said the Administration is conducting "serious investigations" into China's actions in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, adding that there are "a lot of ways" to hold the country accountable.
  • President Trump dismissed rumors that he is considering postponing the November elections.
  • A reporter raised concerns that the PPP website is not working, preventing banks from processing loans. The President said he would look into the issue.

Relevant Links

Akin Gump Alerts and Other Resources

Akin Gump COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 U.S. State and Local Response Map

50 State Survey - Coronavirus-Related "Stay at Home" Orders

Investment Management: New Small Business Administration Rule Bars Investment Managers from PPP Loans

Litigation: Higher Education Institutions Should Prepare for Fallout from the COVID-19 Pandemic


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):

  • Tweet at 12:55 PM, April 27, 2020 (Link)
    • "Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced that grants have been awarded to expand community-based behavioral health services and strengthen the COVID19 response. Read more here."
  • Tweet at 3:08 PM, April 27, 2020 (Link)
    • "Today, HHS through the Health Resources and Services Administration, launched a new COVID-19 Uninsured Program Portal, allowing health care providers who have conducted COVID19 testing or provided treatment for uninsured COVID-19 individuals on or after 2/4/2020 to request claims reimbursement. (Press Release)"

Federal Reserve:

  • Tweet at 9:02 AM, April 27, 2020 (Link)
    • "The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) extend comment period by 30 days to June 4,2020, for resolution plan guidance for large foreign banks (Press Release)"
  • Tweet at 4:35 PM, April 27, 2020 (Link)
    • "The Federal Reserve announces an expansion of the scope and duration of the Municipal Liquidity Facility (Press Release)"

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn:

  • Tweet at 10:25 AM, April 27, 2020 (Link)
    • "More than 1,500 additional hand sanitizer manufacturers have registered with FDA since our temporary policy in March regarding the manufacture of certain alcohol-based hand sanitizer products. We are grateful for these efforts to help fight COVID19. (Press Release)"

Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb:

  • Tweet at 9:32 PM, April 27, 2020 (Link)
    • "My Op Ed in today's Wall Street Journal. The U.S. needs to mount an unprecedented effort to develop a covid vaccine in record time to secure a product for Americans and deliver a solution to low and middle income nations that risk being locked out of early access."

    Article orignally published on 28 April 2020

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