A 3-D rendering of the coronavirus.

A 3-D rendering of the coronavirus. dowell / Getty Images

Coronavirus Roundup: HHS Awards $21 Million to Get Ready for New and Emerging Pathogens 

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

President Biden got his updated booster shot on camera on Tuesday and encouraged everyone else to do so if they haven’t already, as winter approaches. 

“Some of our friends in Congress say we don’t need COVID funding, or they say there’s really no reason that the government should be paying for that. I strongly disagree,” he said. “Some members of Congress say they [do] want to move beyond COVID, but they don’t want to spend the money to do it. We can’t have it both ways.” 

Additionally, “As we enter this new moment in the battle against COVID, let’s use it to start fresh as a country, to put all the old battles over COVID behind us, to put all the partisan politics aside,” the president said. This comes weeks after Biden said “the pandemic is over” during an interview, and Republicans started calling for him to roll back his administration’s COVID policies. 

The Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response announced this week it awarded $21 million to 13 healthcare facilities to bolster the nation’s preparedness for new or emerging pathogens, which are organisms that can cause diseases. “Our responses to Ebola, COVID-19, and Monkeypox have highlighted a need to increase our readiness to respond to these threats,” Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell said. “We are taking this critical step to award new funding to our regional healthcare partners to strengthen the capabilities of their special pathogen programs and make our healthcare system better prepared to respond to these infectious diseases.” 

Robert Westbrooks, executive director of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee since April 2020, is retiring from government service by the end of the year. “Westbrooks played a critical role in building the new organization by setting strategic direction, coordinating with the 21 inspectors general who are committee members, hiring a leadership team and staff and running its day-to-day operations,” said a statement from the committee on Tuesday. “Under his leadership, the PRAC has grown to 50 employees that collaborate across the oversight community to identify cross-cutting issues and risks related to the more than $5 trillion in federal pandemic spending.” Government Executive interviewed Westbrooks in September 2020.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery released its 10th quarterly report on Wednesday. “As I have noted in previous correspondence and other communications with Congress, in order for this work to continue, we are asking for a five-year extension beyond our sunset date of 2025,” Special IG Brian Miller wrote. “We need this time to see our investigations through to completion. Most loans within our jurisdiction mature in 2025, and should defaults then occur, without an extension, we will have sunsetted just when we are most needed.” He also repeated his call to be included in the annual appropriations process, “which will allow SIGPR to more effectively plan and execute our efforts related to recruitment, acquisitions and information technology.” 

From fiscal 2017 to 2021, deferred maintenance of civilian federal property and repair costs increased about 50% and officials from four selected agencies (the General Services Administration and the Interior, Energy and Health and Human Services departments) said, "factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as supply chain issues, may have contributed to increased deferred maintenance and repair estimates from fiscal years 2020 through 2021,” according to a Government Accountability Office report published on Friday. “Managing federal real property” has been on GAO’s “high risk list” since 2003. “More recently, we and others have identified continuing issues with the reliability and transparency of agencies’ reported deferred maintenance and repair data,” the report stated. “We are conducting ongoing work reviewing selected agencies’ methods for collecting, reporting and ensuring the reliability of deferred maintenance and repair data and prioritizing projects to address maintenance and repair needs.” 

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