Medical workers in New York City transfer a body to a hearse for removal to a mortuary on March 31.

Medical workers in New York City transfer a body to a hearse for removal to a mortuary on March 31. John Minchillo/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: 39-Year-Old TSA Employee Dies, VA Steps Up Assistance to States

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

On Sunday, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Fox News, this week will be “our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment” as the country braces for a heightened number of deaths this week. Here are some of the other headlines you might have missed over the weekend and today.

The first Transportation Security Administration employee died from coronavirus on April 2, the agency announced on Friday. Francis Boccabella III was a 39-year-old canine handler at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. 

The United States Supreme Court announced on Friday it’s suspending oral arguments scheduled for April. It previously postponed March arguments, so will try to reschedule March and April sessions before the end of the term “if circumstances permit in light of public health and safety guidance at that time.”

The New York Times reported on the impact of the coronavirus on State Department employees, contractors, and Foreign Service officers. In addition to being at risk for exposure, they’re working to help Americans abroad return home, trying to secure tests at some posts and navigating telework and staff shortages. 

On Friday, a group of Democratic senators asked the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate the Navy’s firing of Capt. Brett Crozier after he wrote a letter asking for help with the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier he commanded. His crew, former military officials and others hailed Crozier as a hero for his actions. Read more from Defense One here

Among those in support of the captain was Tweed Roosevelt, great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and the chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Institute at Long Island University. He wrote an opinion article in The New York Times about the situation on Friday. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper defended the Navy’s handling of the situation on CNN and ABC. He said there is an ongoing investigation, but didn’t say specifically who is doing it. 

Defense Secretary Esper outlined the military’s plans to further assist New York. “What we plan on doing now is deploying over 1,100 additional doctors and nurses and other medical professionals to New York, he said on CNN on Sunday. “The bulk of them will go to the Javits Center. And then, as of late yesterday, we agreed to deploy a few hundred of them to 11 New York City hospitals that are also seeing a deficiency when it comes to medical staff.”

On ABC, while asserting the Pentagon has been doing advanced planning, Esper said, “I can't recall” if leaders received an intelligence assessment last November on the coronavirus from the Defense Intelligence Agency. DIA supposedly briefed the National Security Council in December in order to study the military’s readiness. 

The Defense Department launched a new website on Friday for its coronavirus acquisition joint task force, which coordinates acquisitions with that of Health and Health Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency. The website has “governance and guidance, key product lines, and welcomes resources and solutions from industry, academia, Department of Defense personnel, venture capital firms, and individual contributors,” according to the department

45 Democratic senators wrote to the Treasury and Veterans Affairs Departments and Social Security Administration on Friday arguing that those who receive benefits from VA or the Supplemental Security Income program should not have to file tax returns in order to get their stimulus checks. The lawmakers want the government to extend the same allowances for those beneficiaries as it did last week for social security recipients. 

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., sent a similar letter on Friday as well. “Requiring veterans and SSI recipients to file a tax return in order to receive their stimulus payment adds an additional burden on those most vulnerable to this pandemic and increases the risk they will not receive these much-needed payments,” they wrote.  “It also makes these individuals more vulnerable to scammers.”

Axios reported on Sunday about “an epic Situation Room showdown” on Saturday between Peter Navarro, White House economic adviser, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Infectious Disease expert and coronavirus task force member, over the use of an anti-malaria drug for coronavirus. “Most members of the task force support a cautious approach to discussing the drug until it's proven,” Axios reported. “Navarro, on the other hand, is convinced, based on his reading, that the drug works against the coronavirus.” 

Similarly, The Washington Post profiled the “battle” between the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over new guidance for individuals to wear face masks or coverings while in public. Some administration officials, including the president, have not been enthusiastic about the CDC’s recommendations because they don’t believe it's needed and don’t want to incite panic. 

On Sunday, the Defense Department ordered all individuals on Defense properties, installations, and facilities to wear face coverings when they can’t maintain a six-foot distance from others in public or work areas. The order applies to military personnel, civilians, family members, contractors and anyone else on the properties. 

Trump issued an order under the 1950 Defense Production Act on Friday to further prevent price gouging and hoarding of medical supplies. “This conduct denies our country and our people the materials they need to win the war against the virus,” it stated.  

Federal law enforcement is looking into why 39 million N95 masks never “materialized” after the union that represents healthcare workers in California sought to buy them from a supplier, The Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday. This is part of the federal government’s crackdown on coronavirus-related fraud, price gouging and hoarding. 

An Associated Press investigation found that the administration “wasted” two months in the lead-up to the outbreak when it could have been increasing its stockpile of medical supplies. By reviewing federal contracts, the AP found that “federal agencies largely waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said on Sunday his state would return more than 400 of the 500 ventilators it received from the federal government’s stockpile, so they can go to states hit harder by the virus. Although the ventilators are “not suitable for treating COVID-19 patients,” they can be “used for other patients, freeing up more COVID-19 compatible ventilators to help with the crisis,” The Seattle Times reported

House Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., will lead the bipartisan panel that will oversee the Trump administration's distribution of funds from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. “My understanding is that this committee will be forward looking, we are not going to be looking back on what the president may or may not have done back before this crisis hit,” he said on CNN on Sunday. “The crisis is with us.” 

During the briefing on Sunday, the president said the White House is establishing a federal medical facility in the Washington, D.C., area, in response to repeated requests from the Maryland and Virginia governors and D.C. mayor. He also said, “I like the concept of” giving Americans additional checks in the next stimulus package within giving a possible amount. 

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said during the briefing he ordered veterans hospitals to start preparing more than 1,500 beds nationwide for coronavirus patients. He cited assistance in New York, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Michigan specifically. He said this is part of the “fourth mission” of the VA, which is “to support the nation in times of national emergency.” 

The U.S. Coast Guard oversaw the disembarkation of 250,000 passengers over the last three weeks from cruise ships to mitigate COVID-19 exposure.  “We commend the decision by the cruise industry to cease operations. However, pausing a global tourist industry does not happen instantaneously or easily,” said Vice Admiral Dan Abel, Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations, in a press release on Saturday. “The federal, state, local and industry cooperation to achieve this feat truly represents the whole-of-nation approach directed by the president.”

The Justice Department announced on Monday it established a coronavirus “strike team” in South Carolina, which is part of its broad effort to combat pandemic-related fraud. The team (that has already begun pursuing leads) includes members from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, federal law enforcement and South Carolina law enforcement, who will work with various federal agencies.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday how the spy agencies are modifying their operations as their employees can’t telework due to the classified information they deal with. Splitting up teams between different locations, practicing social distancing in offices and using secure video conference lines are some of their strategies. 

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency will introduce new guidance this week to address agencies’ telework and connectivity issues during coronavirus, according to Federal News Network. “The goal, according to multiple sources, is to give agencies more flexibility to keep employees connected to data and applications, while not losing any security rigor.”

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about how states are enforcing their “stay at home” orders. President Trump has repeatedly denied the need for a national order. 

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

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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