Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the delay in selecting a House speaker shows that democracy is working. But it also delays the establishment of another COVID-19 oversight panel.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the delay in selecting a House speaker shows that democracy is working. But it also delays the establishment of another COVID-19 oversight panel. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Coronavirus Roundup: A New Year Brings New Priorities, Including Another COVID Oversight Panel

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

With the House in chaos over the speaker vote, all other legislative business has come to a halt, including a vote on the proposed rules package for the new Congress. That rule package addresses a long-sought Republican agenda item: the establishment of a panel to investigate the federal government’s response to the pandemic and COVID-19’s origins. 

Some Republican lawmakers have expressed concerns that the delay in selecting a speaker and moving forward on legislative priorities is letting the Biden administration go unchecked and could have national security implications, while others, such as Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., incoming chair of the House oversight committee, said in the long-term “this is going to be good for us,” as it is a “display of democracy.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The much-anticipated final rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect health care workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19 will come out “later this year,” according to the Biden administration’s fall 2022 regulatory agenda released earlier this week. The temporary rule on this had lapsed. Also, “OSHA will propose an infectious diseases rulemaking to protect employees in healthcare and other high-risk environments from exposure to and transmission of persistent and new infectious diseases, ranging from ancient scourges such as tuberculosis to newer threats such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), and other diseases,” said a statement from the Labor Department. 

The Omicron XBB.1.5 variant, which the World Health Organization says is the most transmissible omicron subvariant detected thus far, spread rapidly in December. “The new bivalent shot is your best protection against both infection & serious illness,” Dr. Ashish Jha, White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in a series of tweets on Wednesday. “Whether we’ll have an XBB.1.5 wave (and if yes, how big) will depend on many factors including immunity of the population, people’s actions, etc.”

The Health and Human Services Department published a final rule on Friday that removes the mask requirement for Head Start, which is a federal program that provides preschool and childcare for children in low-income families. “To clarify, programs may still promote, encourage, and even require universal masking as part of their COVID-19 evidence-based policy given the proven benefits of masking as an effective layered mitigation strategy against COVID-19, particularly when communities are experiencing a high level of disease burden or are serving high-risk populations,” the rule stated. “This final rule does not address the vaccination and testing requirement, which is still under review.”

A watchdog flagged broad issues with how the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska handled its $1.6 million in CARES Act funding and issued seven recommendations to the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a result. The bureau agreed with the suggestions. “We found that the Tribe did not maintain the required supporting documentation for hazard pay and incurred costs that were not reasonable and not allocable to CARES Act funding under [its agreement with the bureau],” said the Interior Department inspector general, in a report published late last month. “The Tribe also did not maintain complete property records.” 

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.

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