Coronavirus Roundup: Free, Accessible Tests for the Visually Impaired; Pandemic-Related Delays in Cleaning Up Superfund Sites
There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.
One of the first federal agencies to implement a permanent telework and remote work plan following the onset of the pandemic was the Government Publishing Office, which released its plan in July 2021. Before that, in March 2020, it partnered with ExpertusONE, a modern learning management system, to provide service for virtual onboarding, training and offboarding. GPO had already been working with the company for about five years and was its first government customer, Ramesh Ramani, ExpertusONE CEO told Government Executive.
“Transparency is our top priority,” GPO Chief Human Capital Officer Dan Mielke said in a statement, describing the agency’s needs. The new service “has tried to create an open system making every single [human capital] action as transparent to employees as possible. For example, an employee’s supervisor uses the online system to process and track a within grade increase for their employee, and an employee can track their SF-52 [request for personnel action] through the entire process.”
Mielke told Government Executive on Thursday that while GPO had been working toward moving to more digital processes for several years, the pandemic really “sped up” that timeline. Both he and Stewart Lane, GPO’s chief of workforce development, education and training, said they believe their workforce was just as productive, if not more, during the height of maximum telework. Mielke also stressed the importance of having a good relationship with the IT department in a largely remote environment. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
More than 4 million vaccine doses were delivered to about 13,000 sites around the country within a few days of them getting green-lighted for young kids, Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said during a briefing on Thursday.
Jha also announced that the Biden administration is making more, free accessible tests available for those who are blind or visually impaired, which can be ordered on COVIDTest.gov. “We developed this plan in close partnership with members of the disability community. An issue raised consistently was that individuals who are blind or low vision are often unable to utilize rapid self-tests on their own,” he said. “The president has made clear he is committed to addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities regardless of where they live or the level of community transmission.”
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Moderna’s vaccine for children ages 6 through 17. This age group was already eligible to receive Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine.
The pandemic affected long-term clean-up at superfund sites, which are polluted or contaminated locations, according to the Environmental Protection Agency inspector general. “[Remedial project managers] reported that the coronavirus pandemic changed or extended exposures of human health and ecological receptors to hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants at 38 operable units across 31 superfund sites,” said a new report from the IG office.
Also “the lack of updated EPA guidance and policy [on testing and vaccinations for remedial project managers] for magnified delays and gaps in oversight of site work,” said the report. “If the EPA does not keep pace with the need to protect its [remedial project managers] during this pandemic or future crises, foreseeable impacts include delayed and prolonged cleanups; increased costs; prolonged human health and ecological exposures; and delayed remedial actions, which may lead to an increase in situations requiring immediate, emergency responses.”
Twenty-three of the 24 major federal agencies the Government Accountability Office surveyed implemented some regulatory flexibilities as a result of the pandemic. Officials from the five agencies GAO interviewed (the Energy, Homeland Security and Transportation departments, the EPA and the Small Business Administration) said they designed and implemented their flexibilities based on experience from previous events such as the hurricanes and the Ebola outbreak.
“Fifteen of the 24 agencies GAO surveyed reported having already completed an assessment of at least one regulatory flexibility to understand successes or challenges with using them,” said a report published on Thursday. “Ten agencies reported having used at least one such assessment to inform their decision-making, such as whether to modify an existing flexibility or use a new flexibility.”
It’s been more than 15 years since the first of three laws were enacted with the goal of improving the Health and Human Services Department’s awareness of public health threats, such as by creating a “near real-time electronic nationwide public health situational awareness capability through an interoperable network of systems,” but there has been a “lack of significant progress,” said another new report from GAO. “If this network had been available, it could have been used to provide vital information to better manage a timely COVID-19 response,” said the report.
Most of HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities “could have done more” to protect the children in their custody from COVID-19, according to HHS’s watchdog. “We found that these facilities lacked: procedures for COVID-19 testing of children, employees and volunteers; measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19; and procedures to report required testing and results to [the refugee resettlement office] and State and local health entities,” said a new report from the HHS inspector general. “These issues occurred, in part, because [the office] was rapidly expanding capacity, setting up [emergency intake sites], and developing COVID-19 protocols and guidance for their use.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development, along with COVAX, a global initiative aimed at creating equitable vaccine access, delivered the first two shipments of U.S.-facilitated pediatric vaccines worldwide on June 18 and 19 (302,400 doses to Mongolia and 2.2 million doses to Nepal). “Given the ready availability of global COVID-19 vaccine supply, USAID is working with interested partner countries to expand vaccination to additional groups, including children,” said a press release from USAID on Monday.
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