Coronavirus Roundup: Watchdog Dings SBA’s Oversight of Restaurant Relief Program
There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.
The White House released its strategy on Tuesday to manage the BA.5 sub-variants of the Omicron variant, which now make up the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States.
“To confront BA.5, the administration will continue mobilizing the full strength and capabilities of the federal government and working with state and local leaders, health care workers, the private sector, and community—and faith-based organizations to ensure that the American people have easy and convenient access to and use vaccines, tests and treatments,” said a fact sheet from the White House.
During a briefing on Tuesday, the White House and federal public health officials underscored the importance of staying up-to-date on vaccines. When asked if the administration is considering expanding the eligibility for second booster shots, Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said, “I am very, very clear—that these are decisions made by our regulatory agencies: the [Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. And so, I know that the FDA is considering this, looking at it. And I know CDC scientists are thinking about this and looking at the data as well.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
The FDA granted emergency use authorization for the Novavax vaccine––the pending fourth vaccine option in the United States–– on Wednesday and now the decision goes to the CDC. The CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices is set to meet on July 19.
The Biden administration has secured 3.2 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which is manufactured differently than the mRNA based ones. “Securing these vaccines leverages preexisting U.S. government agreements with Novavax, including a July 2020 agreement for the development and demonstration of large-scale manufacturing of a SARS-CoV2 vaccine,” said a press release from the Health and Human Services Department on Monday. “The government will be taking delivery of COVID-19 vaccine doses manufactured using funds remaining on the existing agreement, pending completion of all quality testing.”
The Labor Department, CDC and surgeon general are inviting the public to participate in an online dialogue about how to address long COVID challenges in the workplace. “Dialogue participants are invited to submit ideas, share comments and show their support for others’ ideas that they believe can help federal agencies identify and respond to long COVID’s workplace challenges, and help reduce the employment and financial impacts of the condition,” said a press release from the Labor Department.
The Small Business Administration could exercise better oversight of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which was established in March 2021 for pandemic relief, said the Government Accountability Office in a report released on Thursday. “SBA expeditiously implemented [the fund] and used lessons learned from previous emergency programs (such as [the Paycheck Protection Program]) to improve program design and increase safeguards,” said the report. “However, our work suggests a more balanced approach toward oversight, using both pre- and post-award controls, is warranted.” Also, “as of June 2022, SBA was not taking timely action to respond to all awards flagged for potential fraud or ineligibility.” Of the seven recommendations the watchdog gave, SBA disagreed with five, partially agreed with one, and agreed with one.
A new report from GAO, using the work of inspectors general, looks at federal spending transparency, including pandemic spending, as required by the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. Twenty of the 31 IG offices whose agencies had COVID outlays reported “their agencies' COVID-19 outlay information was complete, accurate, and timely, thus receiving full points for this test,” said the report. Seven of the 31 IG offices “reported their agencies had issues with ... COVID-19 outlay information and assigned partial points. In addition, four [office of inspectors general] reported their agencies’ COVID-19 outlay data were incomplete, inaccurate and untimely, resulting in zero points assigned.”
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