Coronavirus Roundup: News About the Outbreak that Matters to Feds

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

It’s hard to keep up with the deluge of information coming out about the spread of the novel coronavirus and its impact on federal workers and contractors. Here’s a roundup of recent developments you may have missed: 

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wrote to President Trump on Sunday urging him to add the Washington, D.C. region to the priority locations for federally-supported coronavirus testing sites. There are “over six million residents and the seat of the federal government with hundreds of thousands of employees and contractors serving the Department of Defense and other mission essential agencies” in the area, so this region should be a “top priority for the continuity of our democratic government.”

The Atlantic's Robinson Meyer reported on Monday morning that just 653 people have been tested in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia and 14% have tested positive.

Also on Sunday, the National Institutes of Health reported its first known case of coronavirus among its staff. NIH said the employee works for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, is not involved in patient care and is currently “quarantined at home and doing well.”

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court put off oral arguments for the next two weeks. Law360 noted that several high profile cases were supposed to happen in the next two weeks, including one about deportation relief for unauthorized immigrants, which could impact federal operations.

The Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security departments may soon see a funding boost: Politico reported that OMB plans to ask Congress this week for more money for these departments on the frontlines of combating the outbreak. The administration official “could not provide a dollar estimate or detail specific agency needs, citing the early nature of the discussions.”

Veterans Health Administration unions are calling for action: Five unions that represent about 350,000 VHA employees collectively condemned the agency for its “lack of preparations, planning, communications so far in response to COVID-19.” Read the joint statement, which includes the unions’ desired action plan. VA employees are not the only feds at risk. TSA screeners, Social Security administrative law judges and others have deep concerns about how agencies are protecting employees. Read more here.  

There’s been a cyberattack on the Health and Human Services Department: Bloomberg News first reported that HHS experienced some type of cyberattack on Sunday related to its coronavirus response in an attempt to “slow the agency’s systems down, but didn’t do so in any meaningful way.”

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is sharing best practices on cybersecurity risks: As many federal employees start to telework, CISA released a memo on how to mitigate security issues.  

The Pentagon is banning civilian, military members, contractors or others who traveled overseas in the last 14 days from entering the building, as of midnight on March 16. Read full guidance here

Defense officials also issued a new resource page for employees and contractors: The website also includes information about Defense Department schools that serve military families, along with policy updates and news stories related to the coronavirus here

The White House called for “maximum telework flexibility for D.C.-area employees, according to a memo on Sunday from acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought. However, he said that agency heads could exempt otherwise eligible employees from telework “consistent with operational needs.” Read more here.

The administration is deploying more federal employees to help reduce airport lines, boost testing for the virus nationwide and more. Read more from the coronavirus task force briefing on Sunday evening.

OMB asked all federal agencies to stop travel that is not mission-critical in a Saturday memo. Read more here.

The Bureau of Prisons published a coronavirus action plan on Friday. It banned visits (with some exceptions for attorneys), inmate transfers, staff training and contractors’ access (except those performing essential services) for 30 days, after which it will reevaluate the situation. Previously, the agency launched a screening tool for employees who recently traveled to high-risk areas. Read more here

Insight for federal managers: On today’s podcast episode of “GovExec Daily,” Government Executive Deputy Editor Katherine McIntire Peters spoke about navigating telework for the indefinite future and gave advice to those doing it for the first time. 

Upcoming: The White House Coronavirus Task Force will hold a press briefing today at 3:30 p.m.