FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor speaks at a briefing over the weekend. Gaynor said Tuesday that the administration is ready to use the Defense Production Act.

FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor speaks at a briefing over the weekend. Gaynor said Tuesday that the administration is ready to use the Defense Production Act. Patrick Semansky/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: FEMA Launches a ‘Rumor Control’ Website, Defense Prepares for Telework ‘As Long As Necessary’

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

Here are some recent stories you might have missed: 

At 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “The Defense Production Act is in full force, but haven’t had to use it because no one has said NO! Millions of masks coming as back up to states.” Read DefenseOne’s full coverage of why the president hasn’t used the 1950 act to increase the production of medical supplies. 

Meanwhile, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor said the administration is ready to use the Defense Production Act on ABC at 7:44 a.m. and on CNN at 8:50 a.m. “There are some test kits we need to get our hands on,” he told CNN. Also, the government is inserting “DPA language” into the massive contract to obtain 500 million masks, he said.

The first clinical trial of a possible coronavirus treatment drug will begin in New York City on Tuesday, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said over the weekend. The Food and Drug Administration fast-tracked approval

During a press conference, Cuomo said FEMA is sending 400 ventilators to New York, but he needs 30,000. “You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators?” he asked. “You're missing the magnitude of the problem." He also repeated his call to use the Defense Production Act. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who self-quarantined after coming in contact with individuals who tested positive for coronavirus, called on his podcast for Trump to use the act, The Houston Chronicle reported on Monday. 

The National Institutes of Health said on Monday it will launch a website for coronavirus workers to learn about how to protect themselves. The coronavirus supplemental appropriations bill enacted on March 6 allocated $10 million for worker-based training and reducing exposure to hospital employees, first responders and others on the frontlines. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a “series of missteps” that hindered the federal government’s initial response to the coronavirus, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. Sources said “the early decision not to use the test adopted by the World Health Organization, flaws with the more complex test developed by the CDC, government guidelines restricting who could be tested and delays in engaging the private sector to ramp up testing capacity” hampered the response. 

The Refugee Resettlement Office, a division of the Health and Human Services Department, is asking for expedited review of a questionnaire to potentially identify coronavirus cases among staff and visitors to unaccompanied alien children programs nationwide. Comments are due within 60 days. Read the full request published in the Federal Register on Tuesday. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency launched a “rumor control” website to dispel coronavirus related-myths. With the rise in disinformation on and off line about the pandemic, the agency seeks to clear up any confusion. 

During a virtual town hall on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, "We're gonna telework as long as necessary to ensure that we're beyond the coronavirus crisis...Maybe months." He warned employees to watch out for phishing activity and other cyber malpractice.  

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republicans published a guide of relevant federal agency actions on transportation for essential personnel and maintenance of the supply chain during coronavirus. The committee said the guide will be updated regularly.

A senior State Department official briefed reporters on Monday about department operations and personnel affected by coronavirus. State is “at single digits here in the United States with [coronavirus] cases – one each, two each, three each in Washington; Houston; Boston; New York; Quantico, Virginia; and Seattle,” said the official. Including overseas, “We’re looking at less than 30 scattered over 220 posts around the world, and it remains a challenge.” At the time the official could not give a breakdown among locally employed staff, Foreign Service officers and contractors.

Also during the briefing, a senior State official said they have a contingency plan for embassy personnel in countries where the borders are closed and there aren’t flights. “We have done so already in some places where air travel has become more complicated,” said the official. “We are bringing those officers back to the United States, and in a great many cases, certainly I know in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, we’re putting those people to work here assisting the task force...or otherwise assisting in dealing with this worldwide crisis.” The official could not give a number on how many authorized departures and ordered departures the department has done so far. 

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, requested the Health and Human Services and Homeland Security departments start tracking the medical equipment that the Federal Emergency Management Agency sends to states. “Given the rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S., it is critical that we have a full and accurate account of the availability of the medical supplies needed to test and treat the American public and I therefore ask that the administration provide this essential information to the committee by Friday,” Thompson wrote in a letter.

White House aides told The New York Times that Trump’s patience with Dr. Anthony Fauci “has started to wear thin.” The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director and coronavirus task force member has not been afraid to contradict the president’s claims about the pandemic.  

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found in a preliminary investigation that a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, failed to respond quickly to the coronavirus and placed residents in danger, The Seattle Times reported. The Life Care Center of Kirkland—in one of states with the most coronavirus cases—has been linked to 35 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the paper.

The government is considering issuing an order to shut down all domestic passenger flights, The Wall Street Journal reported. The major U.S. airlines are also planning for a potential voluntary shutdown of flights. “Airlines generally favor government orders rather than voluntary industry initiatives, partly because a mandate would provide airlines with extra ammunition in their ongoing lobbying for federal aid,” the paper said. 

DHS and the Executive Office for Immigration Review announced on Monday night that all migrant protection protocol and merit hearings slated through April 22 will be rescheduled. They wrote in a statement that while wanting to give individuals “their day in court,” they also want to heed to public health guidance. 

Here is a list of federal courts closures and restrictions due to coronavirus, from Law360. The list is being updated as needed.

A social media manager for the Army was fired on Saturday for an Instagram post on the coronavirus that was criticized for being racist and insensitive, Military Times reported. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., was among those angered over the post. 

Upcoming: There is no official White House press briefing scheduled as of now, but the president and coronavirus task force members participated in a virtual town hall on Fox News this afternoon.

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode features a RouteFifty reporter explaining how she got sick and struggled to get a coronavirus test. 

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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