The Pentagon is sending Navy hospital ships, including the USNS Comfort shown above, to New York and the West Coast.

The Pentagon is sending Navy hospital ships, including the USNS Comfort shown above, to New York and the West Coast. DOD photo

Coronavirus Roundup: Federal Response Could Last 18 Months

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

The coronavirus is now in all 50 states. Here’s a roundup of recent developments you may have missed.

An HHS report, obtained by The New York Times, outlines the coordinated federal efforts to combat the coronavirus, which could last up to 18 month. It assumed the pandemic can cause “significant shortages for government, private sector, and individual U.S. consumers,” and there is an “increasing … need for coordination to ensure a unified, complete, and synchronized federal response.” 

An air traffic control tower at Chicago’s Midway International Airport closed on Tuesday after several employees tested positive for coronavirus. “The airport remains open and operations will continue at a reduced rate until the situation is resolved,” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement to the media. “The air traffic system is a resilient system with multiple backups in place. This shift is a regular execution of a longstanding contingency plan to ensure continued operations.”

During Wednesday’s press conference, President Trump said he is invoking the 1950 Defense Production Act. The law will make it easier for the government to obtain medical supplies and equipment from contractors. He also said military hospital ships will be deployed to New York and to the West Coast. The Wall Street Journal had an exclusive report on the ships on Tuesday.

The White House Task Force said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is now active in every region of the country and is operating at level one, the highest level of activation. According to FEMA, level one means, “Due to its severity, size, location, actual or potential impact on public health, welfare, and infrastructure, the incident requires an extreme amount of direct federal assistance for response and recovery efforts for which the capabilities to support it do not exist at any level of government.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon will give 1 million respiration masks (possibly up to 5 million) and is ready to give about 2,000 room ventilators to HHS. Also the department is considering activating the National Guard and Reserve. However, “in some ways, we want to be the last resort,” as he encouraged states and localities to figure out their own solutions first. Read DefenseOne’s full coverage of the press conference.

A new study from government scientists found that the coronavirus can last from several hours to several days in aerosols or other surfaces. Read more from the National Institutes of Health, CDC, University of California Los Angeles, and Princeton University. 

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., wrote to State Secretary Mike Pompeo on Wednesday with questions about how the department and embassies worldwide are managing the new travel restrictions. While he commended the work of State personnel, he said, “Americans need greater support.”

The Office of Management and Budget published new guidance late Tuesday night calling on agencies to “minimize face-to-face interactions” to combat the coronavirus, while ensuring the government continues to function. It calls for maximum use of telework for employees and contractors, re-prioritization of non-mission critical services, communication with customers about potentially delayed services, and streamlining of regulations to approve critical services where appropriate. Read the full Government Executive story here

The FBI is looking into the Health and Human Services cyber incident. Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press “The FBI is very active, trying to determine who is responsible for these things” and “if it is another country doing this, I’m sure the ramifications will be severe.”

A top Homeland Security Democrat requested the Secret Service provide the committee with its coronavirus contingency plans by March 31. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., asked the agency to explain how it will protect the presidential candidates, upcoming conventions and USSS personnel as the outbreak does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

The Election Assistance Commission published additional guidance on Tuesday for state and local election officials. The EAC said states may use their “Help America Vote Act” funds to purchase disinfecting wipes, masks and other cleaning supplies to use during primaries and causes. Several states have postponed voting, but the EAC is not asking them to do so.

The White House announced that John Barsa will become the Acting Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, following the news that Administrator Mark Green will be leaving next month. Barsa is currently USAID’s assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean. USAID has been critical to combating the coronavirus worldwide

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 50,000 Transportation Security Administration officers, called for more protections for them. AFGE President Everett Kelley told ABC News these employees, who face heightened risk of coming into contact with the virus, “are afraid [and] no one knows or understands the extent of this virus so everyone is a little shaken by it.”

The Agriculture Department explained how it is protecting employees while also maintaining quality food inspections. Here is a rundown of specific procedures and a video message from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Office of Personnel Management Director Dale Cabaniss abruptly resigned on Tuesday evening. Cabaniss was critical to the administration’s efforts to protect federal employees during the coronavirus outbreak.  

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at how the Defense Department is responding to the coronavirus.

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