Coronavirus Roundup: The Biden Administration Renews the Public Health Emergency for COVID-19
There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.
On Thursday, the Health and Human Services Department renewed the COVID-19 public health emergency for another 90 days at least, extending the Biden administration’s ability to access certain flexibilities and waivers for its pandemic response. The Trump administration first declared the emergency in January 2020.
This comes as federal public health officials are bracing for a possible winter surge in COVID-19 cases and a few weeks after President Biden said in a “60 Minutes interview “the pandemic is over,” which led to Republicans calling on the administration to act like it. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said during the White House briefing on Tuesday that there are challenges ahead with winter coming, but what occurs in the coming weeks and months will have a big impact on how it goes. He encouraged everyone to get their updated booster if they haven’t already. On Tuesday, Politico reported that just 5% of the then-eligible population had received the updated dose amid “confusion over the shot, declining cases and profound pandemic fatigue.”
Once again, he reiterated the administration’s plea for more funding. “We do not have an adequate stockpile of that or of tests because we had to pull resources to make sure that we had enough vaccines,” said Jha. “We do not have funding for the next generation of vaccines and treatments. Our vaccine campaign has been more limited because of lack of funding. So, Congress bears a lot of responsibility for the complexities of the moment we find ourselves in.”
Kids as young as five can now get the updated COVID booster, following the authorization from the Food and Drug Administration and sign off from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week.
An estimated 85% of applicants to the Small Business Administration's COVID-19 relief program for arts and entertainment industries found the various changes to the program’s guidance at least somewhat challenging, according to the Government Accountability Office. Overall, “the dissatisfaction of [Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program] applicants with SBA’s communications and customer support suggests there are lessons to be learned for future emergency response efforts,” said a Government Accountability Office report published on Tuesday. “Because SBA’s existing plans for communication during disasters or emergencies focus on regional loan programs serving all small businesses, they are not well suited for a program like [the shuttered venues program], a national grant program serving a specific industry.” GAO also found that SBA could improve how it roots out fraud in the program.
Amb. Pamela Hamamoto has been selected to be the lead U.S. pandemic negotiator for the proposed accord on pandemic preparedness, response and prevention currently being debated at the World Health Organization. “Hamamoto will assume management and oversight of U.S. engagement in these important discussions, which we believe must yield an accord that effectively strengthens global health collaboration, improves systems for monitoring disease or pandemic outbreaks, bolsters national health security capacities, and enhances equity in pandemic preparedness and responses,” said a joint statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra on Tuesday.
This week the Internal Revenue Service is sending letters to over 9 million individuals and families who might qualify for various tax benefits, but didn’t claim them; this includes the third round of economic impact payments to help mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. “To help people claim these benefits, without charge, Free File will remain open for an extra month this year, until November 17, 2022,” said the IRS in a press release on Thursday. This “enables people whose incomes are $73,000 or less to file a return online for free using brand-name software.”
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