Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, R, plans to sue the administration over the vaccine mandate for the Texas National Guard.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, R, plans to sue the administration over the vaccine mandate for the Texas National Guard. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Coronavirus Roundup: CDC Guidance Updates; Another Challenge to the National Guard Vaccine Mandate

There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

One of the top questions for the contracting community in 2022 will be what happens with the vaccine mandate for contractors and subcontractors that is currently subject to a nationwide injunction, said Kevin Plexico, senior vice president of information solutions at Deltek, a software and information solutions company, during a webinar on Tuesday. 

“I think there’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of what the requirements are given that [the mandate] was implemented” before the injunction and the deadlines have changed several times, said Plexico. What companies actually have to ultimately do, “that’s going to vary, at this point, by state. So, that's something to pay attention to” as the court cases continue, he said. Yet another challenge to the mandate was instituted on Tuesday, which was a class action lawsuit by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

A federal judge blocked the Defense Department from punishing the 35 Navy sailors who refused to get vaccinated, saying it was against their religious freedoms. “There was no indication that the order would affect service members beyond the 35 sailors who sued [the Defense secretary] and the Navy,” The Associated Press reported on Tuesday. “Well over 90% of the military has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including at least 98.5% of active and reserve members of the Navy.” 

Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby couldn’t say much on the matter during a briefing on Tuesday, but said the department is reviewing the decision and talking with the Justice Department about options going forward. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III is ​​still experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms and is working from home, said Kirby. “I'm not aware of any other senior officials here at the Pentagon who have contracted COVID,” he continued. “We understand obviously our obligation to be transparent with you if and when that happens.”

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backed the Food and Drug Administration's decision to shorten the time between the initial Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination series and booster shots, and for children ages 5-11 who are immunocompromised to receive a booster shot. A CDC advisory committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for those 12–15 years old. 

Also on Tuesday, the CDC updated its guidance on the new shortened isolation period, which has caused much controversy, to say that individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 and remained isolated for five days may take a test, but don’t have to. On December 27 the CDC decreased its isolation recommendation from 10 to five days without a testing component. 

The FDA is once again pausing most of its foreign and domestic inspections through January 19 due to Omicron, Politico reported on Wednesday. 

The White House is finalizing plans to acquire and then send out 500 million test kits as President Biden recently promised. The surge of cases from the Omicron variant that coincided with the holiday season led to massive testing shortages. The Defense and Health and Human Services departments “are already executing on an accelerated contracting timeline. This is the largest, of course, over-the-counter purchase of tests to date,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during the briefing on Tuesday. The request for proposals that was sent out to industry “to best understand logistics, timing and manufacturing considerations” was closed on Tuesday and “we are currently evaluating the responses to it, which means we are finalizing the contracts.”

The administration is aiming for the first delivery for manufacturers to start later this month, Psaki added. “When we have those deliveries in hand, we will put the website up, make it available so that people can order tests at that point in time.”

Psaki was also asked during the briefing what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is supposed to do when it starts enforcing its vaccinate or test rule for private employers and companies say they can’t comply because of the testing shortage. “Companies—about 60% of them have already implemented—are implementing the test or vaccine requirements in different ways, company to company, employer to employer,” Psaki replied. “As OSHA works to implement and work with companies to do that, our objective and what we're continuing to focus on is continuing to increase capacity of free tests that are targeted more though at individuals and households, less than companies.”

House Republicans have taken the next step to vote on a measure to nullify the OSHA rule. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Pa., announced on Monday he introduced legislation that will provide for the consideration of his resolution under the Congressional Review Act. “This procedural measure sets rules for debate and allows for Congressman Keller’s CRA resolution to be discharged and eligible for floor consideration,” said a press release from Keller’s office. “To force a floor vote on Congressman Keller’s CRA resolution with a discharge petition, 218 signatures are needed.  Currently, all 213 members of the House Republican Conference have supported Keller’s resolution.” 

Two top Senate Republicans sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Monday asking why there is such a shortage of tests after “ample” funding for them since March 2020. “With over $82.6 billion specifically appropriated for testing, and flexibility within the department to allocate additional funds from COVID-19 supplemental bills or annual appropriations if necessary, it is unclear to us why we are facing such dire circumstances now,” wrote Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., ranking member of the Senator Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. “It does not appear to be because of lack of funding, but a more fundamental lack of strategy and a failure to anticipate future testing needs by the administration.” 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said on Tuesday he will sue the Biden administration over the vaccine mandate for the Texas National Guard. This is the latest struggle between the Defense Department and a state over the vaccine mandate. Last month, a federal judge denied the Oklahoma governor's request to stop the vaccine mandate for the Oklahoma National Guard.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will be holding a series of meetings this month to address supply chain issues related to the pandemic and Defense Production Act actions, which started in April 2020, said a notice set to publish in the Federal Register on Wednesday. 

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Port Envoy to the Administration Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force John Porcari will give a briefing at 12:15 p.m. 

Help us understand the situation better. Are you a federal employee, contractor or military member with information, concerns, etc. about how your agency is handling the coronavirus? Email us at newstips@govexec.com.