What'd I miss? Pandemic, economic and cyberattack updates to start 2021 - Technical.ly DC

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Jan. 4, 2021 1:38 pm

What’d I miss? Pandemic, economic and cyberattack updates to start 2021

It's a new year, and there's hope this one will be better than the last. But we're still in the midst of interlocking crises. Here's a quick primer on COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans, economic relief and the SolarWinds cyberattack.
Novavax is running trials for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

Novavax is running trials for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

(Courtesy photo)

2021, here we go.

If you’re like me, you spent more time over the last week catching up on the finer points of streaming content like “Hamilton” than the news. And a new year arrived, allowing us to finally leave 2020 behind. But, as we get back to work, it’s a reminder that, at least to start the year, we’re still in a period of cascading societal crises. So it’s important to be up-to-date on what’s happening, and how the news affects D.C. Here’s a quick look at three of the major stories and their local implications:

Trump signed the latest COVID-19 relief package.

Just ahead of the holidays, Congress finally heard the call from places as close as the Wilson Building and passed $900 billion in economic aid for the pandemic. It was seen as a short-term fix with deadlines to important programs approaching. President Donald Trump threatened a veto for several days, saying he wanted $2,000 stimulus checks instead of the $600 offered in the bill. But he ended up signing the bill on Dec. 27, and those $600 checks are already showing up in bank accounts.

The bill has lots of provisions for small businesses; I wrote up an overview here. The headliner is the reopening of the Paycheck Protection Program to businesses who already received one loan, and tax relief for those who already got a loan. Back in April, PPP proved a welcome bit of relief for entrepreneurs in D.C., even though it didn’t reach all ZIP codes, or save all of the nascent businesses. The D.C.-based Economic Innovation Group, which called for more PPP funding ahead of this bill’s passage, breaks down the changes here. Among them: You can now use the loan to cover cloud computing software.

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This was a massive bill — 5,593 pages, to be exact. So we’ll probably continue to learn more as its provisions are implemented by government at the federal, state and local level. One thing in particular we’ll be watching is a new $50-a-month broadband benefit that was created in the bill. A lack of broadband access is a big issue that was exacerbated by the pandemic. Will this help people on the other side of the digital divide in cities like D.C.?

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is moving … slowly.

As many have said, ending the pandemic remains the best way to revive the economy. And as 2021 begins, a surge in COVID-19 cases is still on in the region. That puts all eyes on vaccines. After the rush to develop the first COVID-19 vaccines in 2020, the mission in 2021 will be ensuring that folks get the initial inoculations made of Pfizer and Moderna. We left for break with uplifting images of healthcare workers getting the first doses. But as the program started to spread, delays became apparent. The country didn’t meet its goal of vaccinating 20 million by the end of the year. Already, some of the doses are starting to expire. In D.C., two Giant shoppers who weren’t among the healthcare workers in the first phase of the distribution plane happened to get vaccines just because the doses were about to go bad.

The big focus will be on how D.C., Maryland and Virginia are progressing through their phased approach to distributing the vaccine. Below is a look at how it maps out in D.C., from the vaccination plan the District government shared last year. The takeaway: Healthy folks who are working from home are in Phase 4.

The District's phases for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

The District’s phases for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. (Screenshot via coronavirus.dc.gov)

The vaccine is also a local biotech biz story, and there was a big development over the holidays. Novavax, the Gaithersburg, Maryland-based company that catapulted from little-known firm to the forefront of the race to end the pandemic, said it is beginning Phase 3 trials in the U.S. and Mexico. It’s the fifth company to enter the phase of testing that could provide the safety and efficacy data that ultimately allows its vaccine to be approved by federal regulators.

SolarWinds is a name that will long be with us.

Even though election security was judged by many to be a success from a cyber perspective in 2020, a Q4 cyberattack against America that is believed to be the work of Russia vaulted to the top cyber story of the year. The SolarWinds attack, so named for the IT monitoring company that was exploited to enter U.S. systems, could have affected 250 entities. Along with the federal government, it also extends to Big Tech, as it was found that attackers accessed Microsoft source code. It all adds up to an attack that seems to be getting worse the more we learn, as The New York Times detailed how the nation’s defenses were thwarted in a new report out Sunday.

With so much of the federal cybersecurity apparatus in the DMV, expect this to be a topic of conversation well into the new year, and the new presidential administration. One floated idea from the fallout so far: Splitting up the Fort Meade, Maryland-based National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command. The plan is unlikely to advance after objections from lawmakers, but shows how a crisis could be a moment where leaders push for the kind of lasting change that ripples across entire communities.

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