Government responses to COVID-19 on 4/30/20

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Government responses to COVID-19 on 4/30/20

BY THE NUMBERS 

Number of Statewide Cases: 17,835 (+653) 

Marion County Cases: 5,530 (+235) 

Hamilton County Cases: 755 (+9) 

Johnson County Cases: 579 (+16) 

US Cases: 1,043,595 (+28,306) 

Global Cases: 3.22M 

Number of Statewide Deaths: 1007 (+43) 

Number of Marion County Deaths: 328 (+23) 

US Deaths: 61,187 (+2,658) 

Global Deaths: 228,908 (+10,259) 

Number of new Hoosiers Filing for Unemployment: 57,397 as of 4/30/20 

FEDERAL 

Employer Liability Questions 

President Trump’s executive order reopening meat processing plants — even though they're virus hot spots — raises a tangle of liability issues that could keep courts and trial lawyers busy for years, Axios managing editor Jennifer Kingson writes. 

  • • Why it matters: The scrap over meat plants previews what other businesses will face once commerce opens up more broadly. 

What's happening: Meat processing workers, many of them low-income immigrants and minorities, are being recalled to plants where thousands have been sickened. 

  • • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to President Trump on Tuesday pushing him to curb the amount of liability businesses could face. 
  • • The letter warned against a scenario where "government bureaucrats enforcing a rule book of regulations" could "issue fines when they find a sneeze guard out of place." 
  • • The letter was delivered to a receptive audience: Trump and his economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, are said to be in favor of a "liability shield" that would "prevent businesses from being sued by customers who contract the coronavirus," the Washington Post reports. 

Lawyers say the meat producers being forced to reopen plants — like Tyson Foods, Conagra, Smithfield Foods, JBS and Cargill — could face a range of legal challenges if their workers get sick. 

  • • "The overwhelming majority of the workforce could have worker's comp claims," David Domina, a trial practice lawyer in Omaha, tells Axios. 

3.8 Million Americans Sought Jobless Benefits Last Week, Extending Pandemic’s Grip on the National Workforce 

More than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in six weeks. More than 3.8 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department, as the coronavirus pandemic’s economic toll burrowed deeper into the American workforce. The outbreak and subsequent recession have wiped away all jobs created since the Great Recession. Economists estimate the national unemployment rate sits between 15 and 20 percent, compared to about 25 percent at the peak of the Great Depression. For comparison, 4.4 million people applied for benefits for the week ending April 18, and 30.3 million have sought benefits in the past six weeks alone. That figure represents roughly 1 in 5 American workers. 

There is no precedent for figures like this in modern American history. 

Updated PPP Guidance 

Treasury continues to release daily guidance on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Yesterday, Secretary Mnuchin and Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Jovita Carranza issued a joint statement to assist small community lenders and their small business customers. To meet the demand for the smallest lenders, the SBA only accepted loans from lenders with assets of less than $1 billion from 4:00 PM to 11:59 PM yesterday. Treasury and SBA made this decision to ensure that the smallest businesses are not locked out of the program and have access to the PPP fund. All lending institutions, regardless of size, are still able to submit loans for approval. Treasury also released an updated FAQ for lenders and borrowers, which can be found here

IRS Releases Employee Retention Credit FAQ 

On Wednesday, the IRS released additional information on the Employee Retention Credit (ERC). The credit was authorized by the CARES Act and encourages businesses to keep employees on payroll by offering a refundable tax credit of 50 percent of up to $10,000 in wages. The FAQs which address which businesses are eligible, how to claim the credit, qualified wages, and other issues can be found here. 

Federal Social Distancing Guidelines Set to Expire 

Federal social distancing guidelines are set to expire today. President Trump has not yet indicated whether he will extend these guidelines. The guidelines are set to expire as many states have or prepare to reopen businesses including personal care services, retail shops, and restaurants on Friday. This morning’s unemployment claims report will likely continue to build pressure on states and Washington to reopen the economy. 

Potential Phase 4 Memo 

Please see the attached memorandum that attempts to capture intelligence regarding a potential Phase 4 including timing, provisions, etc.

FDA Rules for Antibody Tests Under Review 

In an interview on Wednesday, FDA diagnostics chief Tim Stenzel said the FDA is considering making changes to agency guidance that has authorized more than 100 antibody tests to enter the market without agency review. These tests determine if an individual has had and recovered from COVID-19. The current guidance was released in March amid the rapid outbreak of the virus in the U.S. The guidance allows companies to validate the quality of their tests and distribute them so long as they include disclaimers in the results. The guidance has drawn criticism from several individuals, including former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who has called for tests that have not been reviewed by the agency to be pulled from the market. The agency began reviewing its policy after a letter from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), demanding the FDA “fix shortfalls” in its policy. Krishnamoorthi chairs the House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy. 

FDA Expected to Grant Emergency Use Authorization for Remdesivir 

Today, the FDA is expected to grant emergency use authorization for remdesivir, a drug produced by Gilead Sciences Inc. that has shown favorable results to coronavirus patients in initial clinical trials. The drug has worked particularly well for patients with severe symptoms, including those patients put on ventilators. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said the drug still needs to be reviewed by his agency but noted the drug could shorten recovery time for patients. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar issued a statement Wednesday praising results from a National Institutes of Health (NIH) trial on remdesivir. The trial began on February 21 and gave remdesivir to select patients on a daily basis. Those who received the drug, on average, recovered more quickly than those who received a placebo. 

EPA/CDC Release Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Spaces 

Yesterday, the EPA and the CDC released guidance assisting businesses and families on how to properly clean and disinfect their places of work and homes. The guidance includes instructions to follow, as well as a list of disinfectant products that can be used to kill the virus. A press release on the updated guidance that includes the step-by-step instructions and list of disinfectant products is here. The guidance comes as more and more states engage in efforts to reopen businesses and other public places. 

U.K Hopes to Know Effectiveness of Coronavirus Vaccine by July 

The U.K. is expecting to know the effectiveness of a potential coronavirus vaccine by July. The announcement comes from a partnership between the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University. This partnership will develop and distribute the vaccine. AstraZeneca will be responsible for the manufacturing and supply of the vaccine, which began phase one clinical trials last week. Data from these clinical trials could be available as early as this month, with late-stage trials expected to be underway in the summer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 89 vaccines are currently being developed globally to combat the coronavirus.

Senate Republican calls on Trump to expand executive order to include produce processing 

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) is calling on the Trump administration to include fruit and vegetable processing plants in an executive order meant to keep meat processing facilities open during the coronavirus pandemic. Braun requested the administration include canneries and frozen food suppliers in the order President Trump signed Tuesday evening to secure the U.S. supply of non-perishable foods. “I urge you to use this authority to ensure that our nation’s supply chain of canned and frozen fruit and vegetables remains secure,” Braun wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday. He noted that produce has a short harvest and processing window and is particularly vulnerable. 

STATE 

Fear of Virus Isn’t Reason Enough to Qualify For Unemployment Benefits 

Hoosiers who feel unsafe returning to their jobs when their workplaces reopen likely won’t be eligible to continue collecting unemployment benefits, state officials said Thursday. 

The state’s stay-at-home order expires at midnight Friday, and Gov. Eric Holcomb has indicated he intends to start reopening the economy in some rolling fashion. An announcement about what that looks like is expected to come Friday afternoon. In Indiana, 57,397 people filed initial unemployment claims for the week ended April 25, down from 72,756 new claims the previous week, according to the labor department. More than 262,000 Indiana residents are now receiving unemployment benefits. Indiana Department of Workforce Development Commission Fred Payne said Thursday that the department has been fielding questions from Hoosiers concerned about returning to work and what that means for their unemployment benefits. Hoosiers are eligible for unemployment benefits when they’re out of work through no fault of their own. Not returning to work when called upon because of “generalized fear” of the virus will likely result in a claim being denied as a refusal to work, Payne said. “Generally speaking, our unemployment insurance system was built and designed around the concept of having an individual who is out of work due to no reason of their own and providing them some bridge until they receive some employment,” he said. “This is the backdrop that we’ll assess all claims, federal and state,” he said. “Claimants who have been placed on a temporary layoff related to COVID-19 must return to work if called back to remain eligible for benefits. Not returning to work when there’s available work could be considered a refusal to work and potentially disqualify claimants from receiving unemployment benefits.” 

Indiana Schools Pitch Radical Way to Protect Budgets in Case Students Don’t Return 

As Indiana school districts begin preparing for the fall semester, some school leaders are hearing a concerning message from parents: They don’t want their children to come back. It’s unclear what school will look like in August, after the coronavirus shut down classrooms across the state through the end of this academic year. But there are growing worries among school officials that the fallout will mean fewer students return. And in a state where funding is doled out per student, a drop in enrollment would mean an immediate financial hit to schools. Amid the pandemic, fear of contracting the coronavirus could prompt more parents to start homeschooling long-term or transfer to a full-time virtual school. Registration could also be a hurdle. It’s more difficult to recruit families without seeing them in-person, or when they have more pressing priorities, some superintendents said. “We will have a significant number of families who would want their children to continue to be at home trying to learn remotely,” said Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts. “We already heard some of that.” In response, school business officials are asking the state to consider freezing districts’ enrollment counts in the fall—a radical new idea. But it seems unlikely to gain traction in a state where the prevailing funding philosophy is having money follow the student. The idea, pitched by the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, is meant to offer some financial stability by not penalizing districts for teaching fewer students. Executive Director Dennis Costerison said the freeze could work like a “hold harmless” exemption, so districts are protected from a drop but could still receive a boost in funding if they see an increase in students compared to last fall, or an increase in students who qualify as low-income. That would help if parents choose to keep their children at home through the September count date, when schools log their official enrollment to lock in funding, but later decide to re-enroll as the coronavirus crisis evolves, Butts said. 

LOCAL 

Marion County’s Extended Stay-at-Home Order 

Marion County’s plan to extend the city’s stay-at-home order through May 15 could derail Simon Property Group’s plans to reopen its Indianapolis malls this weekend. The announcement—from Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine—comes one day after news reports said that Indianapolis-based Simon planned to reopen its malls, including 10 properties in Indiana, on Saturday. The state’s stay-at-home order expires at midnight Friday, and Gov. Eric Holcomb has indicated he intends to start reopening the economy in some rolling fashion. When asked earlier this week about Simon’s plans, Holcomb said he had talked with Simon officials but did not tell the company what would be included in his new order, which he will announce Friday. City officials say the local order may have to be adjusted to comply with the new state requirements that Holcomb will announce on Friday. The state has the authority to preempt local governments but it can also allow local governments to set more stringent rules. But local officials said the goal is to issue an order “subsequent to the new statewide order that to the greatest extent allowable will continue current restrictions” on all non-essential business through May 15. According to the city, restaurants may continue serving takeout and delivery, and grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential businesses will remain open. Golf courses and farmers markets will be allowed to open May 2, provided that they put in place proper social-distancing protocols and strict sanitation practices are implemented. The city has also asked county residents to wear a face mask or covering while out in public.

New SBA Rules SHUT OUT Indy Chamber & Most CDFIs 

Unfortunately, new rules issued by SBA this morning effectively shut out most CDFI’s including the Indy Chamber by limiting PPP lending to CDFI’s that have serviced a minimum of $10M in the past 12 months. While we have $25M of liquidity backed by the City of Indianapolis, the Chamber’s BOI program has not met this $10M threshold. This will once again shut out many small businesses from PPP. Fortunately, we anticipated challenges of the enhanced program and created a partnership with Bankabale (7a Lender) and have been able to process $1M in loans in less than 48 hours, even though the SBA continues to utilize the same loan portal for large institutions and small lenders alike. For your reference, here are the rules issued by SBA. Rules pertinent to CDFI’s are on pg. 7: https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/IFR--Corporate-Groups-and-Non-Bank-and-Non-Insured-Depository-Institution-Lenders.pdf 

Should a third round of PPP be considered, we strongly urge you to help correct this shortcoming and provide more flexibility to small community lenders. 

New Indiana Coronavirus Order Won’t Ban Tighter Local Rules 

Any easing of Indiana’s statewide stay-at-home order won’t limit the authority of city or county officials from imposing tighter restrictions in their attempts to slow the coronavirus that has killed at least 1,000 people across the state, the governor said Thursday. Gov. Eric Holcomb is poised to announce on Friday modifications to the business and travel restrictions that have been in place since March 25 as a growing number of states are loosening their shutdown orders. Indianapolis officials, however, extended Marion County’s stay-at-home order on Thursday by two weeks, through May 15, saying the state’s largest city was still experiencing too many COVID-19 cases to safely relax restrictions. Some other cities and counties around the state also have adopted rules responding to outbreaks in their communities. Holcomb said he supported Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s decision and that the new state order wouldn’t strip away local authority. 

IMPORTANT LINKS 

Links to all executive orders may be found here: https://www.in.gov/gov/2384.htm 

Link to the Stay-At-Home Order FAQ may be found here: https://www.in.gov/gov/3232.htm 

More information may be found at the ISDH website at in.gov/coronavirus/ and the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

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