Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and other Democrats introduced a coronavirus ethics and oversight bill.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and other Democrats introduced a coronavirus ethics and oversight bill. Steven Senne / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Senate Democrats Introduce COVID-19 Ethics and Oversight Bill; VOA Officials Resign Amid Claims CDC is Excluding VOA Journalists 

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

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines on Friday to accommodate states’ reopenings. One guidance document deals with returning to normal activities and the other is about attending events and gatherings. The overarching recommendations are still to wear masks, maintain social distancing, stay home if appropriate and wash your hands frequently. This comes as 22 states have experienced increases in confirmed coronavirus cases in the last few days, according to a New York Times report. Here are some other recent headlines from over the weekend and today that you might have missed. 

The coronavirus has disproportionately affected minority communities, but there are vast data gaps, which could prevent the Trump administration from learning the true impact. According to a Politico report, 52% of coronavirus cases reported are still missing information on race and ethnicity. The Health and Human Services Department announced new guidance last week that specifics labs must include race, ethnicity, age and sex in reporting their coronavirus data, but the deadline isn’t until August 1. “Unless we use data and focus concretely on race, we are going to let COVID-19 bake in a whole new generation of disparities," John Kim, executive director of the racial justice research and policy organization Advancement Project California, told Politico. There will be a “decade-plus of impacts,” in areas such as voting turnout, census responses and education gaps. 

Some public health experts are worried the Trump administration’s goal to develop a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year––coupled with its “rewriting the rules of vaccine research”– could lead to the Food and Drug Administration approving one that doesn’t work. “Public confidence in the FDA has really been eroded because of the [emergency use authorization] on hydroxychloroquine and then the mess that they’ve made with serology tests,” said Nicole Lurie, an assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS during the Obama administration. “They’ve already got two strikes against them. The risk of the Trump administration eroding public confidence in our science agencies is just huge,” Politico reported on Monday. 

Later on Monday, Politico said the FDA withdrew its emergency use authorizations for the controversial hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine drugs championed by the president. They failed in several recent clinical trials and doctors said they could cause heart problems.

The Census Bureau outlined on Friday how it will count the homeless population following a delay due to the pandemic. It will send out specially trained census takers between September 22 and 24 to count individuals at shelters, soup kitchens and other locations identified as where those experiencing homelessness reside. The agency said that census takers will follow the local public health guidance regarding social distancing and protective gear.

On Monday, a group of Senate Democrats officially introduced the “2020 Coronavirus Oversight and Recovery Ethics Act" that would ban conflicts of interest among contractors or advisers involved in relief efforts, establish “for good cause” removals for inspectors general, strengthen the congressional pandemic oversight commission, require weekly reports of the executive branch “unreasonably” denying information requests, increase whistleblower protections and improve transparency of bailout funds.  Last month, they released a discussion draft on the same day a Senate committee advanced White House lawyer Brian Miller’s nomination to be Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery. Miller has drawn mixed reviews from experts and lawmakers. 

Voice of America released a statement on Sunday criticizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for rejecting interviews with anyone from VOA, citing internal CDC documents from a Freedom of Information Act request. “For a federal agency’s public affairs office to categorically deny in advance interview requests from VOA journalists...based on a White House opinion statement referring to an Associated Press story about COVID-19 shared by the VOA newsroom as ‘propaganda,’ is even more troubling,” said the statement. “Efforts such as those outlined in the CDC memo can result in the kind of chilling effect on our journalism.” The CDC did not immediately respond to Government Executive for comment. 

VOA White House correspondent Steve Herman reported that both the VOA director and deputy director resigned on Monday, but it was not immediately clear why.  “Director [Amanda] Bennett remarked in the house-wide message that their departure changes nothing about the staff nor the staff’s passion, mission or integrity,” said a statement from the agency provided to Government Executive.  Bennett and Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara “noted that they both departed with gratitude and joy, commending the staff’s dedication to the VOA mission and sharing their admiration for every member of the VOA workforce.” 

ProPublica published a deep dive on Monday about long-term issues facing the U.S. Postal Service and its ability to handle a national vote-by-mail system due to pandemic concerns. “Postal worker unions, for their part, say they’re sure that they can handle this year’s election mail, provided there’s proper planning and they are given enough staffing,” ProPublica reported. “Still, the pandemic has put a strain on many postal workers’ lives and on mail operations. More than 3,000 of the nation’s 600,000 postal workers have tested positive for COVID-19, 67 have died of the virus and 5,800 workers are under quarantine...Even before the pandemic, the Postal Service relied on many postal workers regularly working overtime to get mail delivered.”

The Election Assistance Commission said on Friday its annual board of advisors meeting on June 16 would take place virtually this year. The main point of discussion will be the agency's process of updating its voluntary voting guidelines to reflect technology and security developments since 2015, when it was last modified.

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany will hold a briefing at 2 p.m. 

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at lessons learned from remote work during the pandemic.

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