President Trump and other White House officials meet with governors in a video teleconference Thursday to discuss coronavirus response efforts.

President Trump and other White House officials meet with governors in a video teleconference Thursday to discuss coronavirus response efforts. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

Coronavirus Roundup: Government to Issue New Guidance Based on Regional Risks

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

On Thursday, the United States became the No. 1 country for the most confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, not a record anyone wanted to break. Here are some other headlines you might have missed.

The president’s goal to reopen the country by Easter (April 12) is “aspirational,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House coronavirus task force member. “He put that out because he wanted to give some hope to people … he is not absolutely wed to that,” during an interview with NPR on Thursday. 

Fauci was also interviewed by comedian Trevor Noah and basketball player Stephen Curry on Thursday, both via Instagram.  

Emory University in Atlanta was added to the clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine, the National Institutes of Health said on Friday. Read more about the trial here

The Homeland Security Department offered approximately 1.5 million expired respirator masks from a government warehouse in Indiana to the Transportation Security Administration. “[Customs and Border Protection] has no plans to offer the masks to hard-hit hospitals, or hand them over to the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” The Washington Post reported, despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that say the masks are safe for use during the coronavirus pandemic. “TSA confirmed it has received an offer for a large quantity of N95 masks from CBP and that they will be distributed to airports as needed.”

On Friday, the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA employees, said the agency “finally” listened to its demands to provide employees with protective equipment.  “On Wednesday, TSA emailed all employees notifying them that N95 masks will be provided to all officers who elect to wear them,” the union said in a press release. “[Officers] must complete a brief N95 respirator training” first. It did not say where the masks are coming from. 

Americans who have recently returned to the country from overseas said they’ve received “little or inconsistent guidance from airport and government officials about self-quarantining and social distancing,” The Hill reported on Friday. This is in contrast to guidance put out by the CDC and State Department. 

Attorney General William Barr told the Federal Bureau of Prisons to expand use of home confinement for elderly and sick inmates to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, The Wall Street Journal reported. This comes as union officials, Democrats and Republicans have been calling on the bureau to take more precautions to protect staff and inmates. 

The FBI made its first-coronavirus related arrest on Wednesday night of a Southern California man who falsely claimed on social media he was developing a vaccine. Read more from the Justice Department here

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked the Justice Department and Executive Office for Immigration Review to temporarily suspend immigration court hearings during the outbreak. In her letter on Wednesday she cited how the National Association of Immigration Judges, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Professionals Union have been calling for this in the interest of public health.

The State Department’s Freedom of Information Act office is at a “virtual halt” because of the coronavirus, Politico reported on Friday. The department brings in retired employees to process FOIA requests because of their familiarity with the work and proper security clearances. However, very few can telework and since the retired officials are high-risk for coronavirus they cannot come into the office, so there is about a “96% reduction in ability to process FOIA requests.”

While the Interior Department waived fees for National Parks during the coronavirus, parks keep closing on their own. Critics say keeping them open sends “a mixed message with potentially dangerous consequences for virus spread,” The Associated Press reported.

On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be issuing guidelines on Thursday on social distancing at the National Parks. There was nothing on its website as of early afternoon on Friday. 

87 members of the House LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus wrote to Ambassador Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force coordinator, about the challenges the LGBTQ+ community is facing during coronavirus. Discrimination in the healthcare system, lack of social support and higher rate of HIV/AIDS, which leads to comprised immune systems, are among the issues they listed. “We call on you to keep these considerations in mind as you develop solutions.” 

The Trump administration decided not to send troops to the U.S.-Canadian border to help Customs and Border Protection, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday night. The Pentagon is reportedly still sending troops to the country’s border with Mexico to help with logistics and planning, not law enforcement, NPR reported

In addition to the CDC sending epidemiologists, scientists and experts to New York City and Seattle, it has now sent officials to Louisiana, Wisconsin and Colorado, among others, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC principal deputy director, in an interview on Thursday.

The Health and Human Service Department kept its gym open at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., until Thursday afternoon when reporters inquired about it, Politico reported. The decision to keep the gym open is in contrast to the White House’s guidelines on social distancing and closures of private gyms nationwide.

The National Federation of Federal Employees Local 2109, which represents about 650 employees at an Army arsenal in Watervliet, New York, said there are many coronavirus-safety issues at the facility. There are three confirmed cases among employees so far and the union said workers are short on personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials are still arresting non-criminal migrants and putting them in Florida facilities without being tested for the virus, despite the agency’s assurances it would curb such practice, The Miami Herald reported. As of Wednesday, there were no confirmed cases in the detention centers.

Three migrant children in HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement custody in New York tested positive for coronavirus, CNN reported on Thursday. These were the first reported cases. A day earlier, several immigration and human rights groups filed for expedited release of children in such custody because of the office’s inability to take health prevention measures. 

The watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wrote to the White House counsel on Friday claiming that Jared Kusher’s “shadow” coronavirus task force violates several laws. The watchdog said the task force’s alleged use of private email accounts violates the Presidential Records and Federal Advisory Committee Acts because it “leaves the public in the dark about the work the shadow task force has done and the influence of private industries on the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

The military will stop sharing some of the “granular data about coronavirus infections within its ranks” in order to prevent adversaries from using it against the United States, Reuters reported. While the Pentagon wants to be as transparent as possible about its coronavirus efforts, it’s also trying to balance “operational security,” said Defense Secretary Mark Esper. 

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, Army chief of engineers and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general, described his work with federal partners to build hospitals and give states other forms of assistance during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. 

On Thursday, the State Department compiled a list of frequently asked questions for citizens trying to return home. Via Twitter, it also urged medical professionals who would like to work in the United States, specifically on the coronavirus, to contact their nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for a visa appointment. A Politico reporter was told the tweet was received “poorly” because “U.S. diplomats had no heads up [and] visa services are supposed to be frozen.”

In a letter to the nation’s governors on Thursday, Trump said the administration will soon publish new guidelines for areas based on their level of risk. The guidance will recommend either increasing or decreasing social distancing measures, among other things. 

During the White House briefing on Thursday night, President Trump said of the 1950 Defense Production Act: “We have actually used it on two minor occasions and then we could withdraw it” because companies have been telling him “we don’t need it” to produce medical supplies. Governors and other medical experts have pleaded with the president to use his power under the law to ramp up production of critical medical supplies.

Later on Thursday night, Trump said on Fox News, “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” in reference to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s repeated request for more equipment as his state has become the epicenter of the outbreak. 

ProPublica obtained internal emails from the CDC that showcase the early issues that hampered the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. “CDC underestimated the threat from the virus and stumbled in communicating to local public health officials what should be done,” ProPublica reported. 

The Seattle Times profiled the former Navy vice admiral who is now leading the coronavirus response in Washington State. 

Upcoming: The White House coronavirus task force will hold a briefing at 5 p.m. 

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about battling loneliness in the era of social distancing and telework. 

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