Coronavirus Roundup: Americans ‘Overwhelmingly’ Trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The White House released new guidelines on Thursday evening for governors to open their states in the three phases. It gives governors full discretion to make the decisions and determine the timing. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
According to Office of Personnel Management data released on Thursday, 22% of federal employees teleworked at some point during fiscal 2018, which shows “just how hard agencies had to work” to expand telework during the pandemic, Federal News Network reported. Despite guidance from the OPM and the Office of Management and Budget, many agencies were slow to embrace telework initially during the coronavirus outbreak.
Americans “overwhelmingly” trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new FiveThirtyEight poll. Forty-three percent of those surveyed said they trust the president at least “somewhat” on his response to the pandemic, which “track[s] pretty closely with Trump’s overall approval rating,” the poll found.
The Labor Department Inspector General released a fraud alert on Thursday warning people about scams related to the pandemic. As one example they found scammers were trying to solicit personal information from individuals by pretending to help them file for unemployment insurance.
Employees have filed thousands of Occupational Safety and Health complaints of unsafe working conditions during the coronavirus outbreak, The Washington Post reported. “They arise from an array of workplaces: hospitals, airlines, construction companies, call centers, grocery stores, beauty spas, pharmacies and shipping companies, among others,” said the paper. “Collectively, the records depict the desperation of the employees as well as their frustrations with employers who in their view were at best simply unprepared for a pandemic and at worst callously unconcerned with worker safety.”
The Justice Department froze the collection of civil payment penalties until at least May 31 in order to alleviate some of the economic impact of the virus, Law360 reported on Thursday. "The temporary suspension does not impact a [U.S. attorney's office]'s ability to investigate, file complaints, litigate to judgment or settle any [affirmative civil enforcement] matter," said a letter from acting Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys Corey Ellis to all U.S. attorneys’ offices obtained by Law360. "The temporary suspension does not apply to ongoing litigation, appeals or cases that are not subject to a final, non-appealable judgment."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday that Capt. Brett Crozier, who was ousted after he wrote a letter asking for help with the coronavirus outbreak aboard his aircraft carrier, could return. He said on NBC that the Navy is reviewing the findings from an investigation completed last week. The decision "will come to me at some point in time. As I'm in the chain of command, I can't comment on that further, but I've got to keep an open mind with regard to everything."
The first service member who tested positive for coronavirus was cleared, The Hill reported on Thursday. The 23-year-old male soldier based in South Korea is awaiting guidance on his return to service after seven weeks of isolation. According to Military Times, about 20% of troops diagnosed with coronavirus have recovered.
On Thursday, the Navy identified the USS Theodore Roosevelt sailor who died of coronavirus. Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. was a 41-year-old aviation ordnanceman.
Nineteen Senate Democrats wrote to acting Navy Secretary James McPherson on Thursday about the need to better protect personnel during the pandemic, Politico reported on Friday. "Although we recognize that these challenging circumstances are unprecedented, we remain concerned that the Navy is not sufficiently responding to the needs of military and civilian personnel," they wrote. Also, The Washington Post obtained previously unreported comments by Crozier about his need for help onboard the aircraft carrier.
The Army said on Thursday it expects to test a coronavirus vaccine on humans over the summer. So far it has only done tests on small animals, Bloomberg News reported.
The Army is also doing a “Shark Tank” style competition for ventilator designs. It is “offering an initial investment of $100,000 to innovators with plans to rapidly develop ventilators amid the coronavirus pandemic,” CNBC reported. “Some of the winning solutions could receive follow-on contracts if the prototype is selected for production and deployment.”
The Pentagon authorized a special leave accrual policy on Thursday due to the ongoing coronavirus disruptions. Effective March 11 to September 30, service members “are authorized to accumulate annual leave in excess of 60 days (not to exceed 120 days),” wrote Matthew Donovan, Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, in a memo. “Such members are further authorized to retain such unused leave until the end of fiscal year 2023.”
The Treasury Department said state, local and tribal governments must submit the necessary paperwork by midnight on Friday in order to receive payments from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act within 30 days, as specified in the act. Read more about the process here.
Tribal Diagnostics, a Native-American owned lab, said on Friday it will start accepting coronavirus tests from Indian Health Service, tribal and urban Indian health facilities. The lab is “familiar with the [IHS’s] electronic health records system and can produce comprehensive data reports which can be valuable for tribal health facilities and IHS when advocating for federal funding for COVID-19 relief and response,” said a press release.
Bharat Ramamurti, the only member of the congressional commission overseeing the coronavirus relief funds, asked the Federal Reserve for information about the loans going to banks, Bloomberg reported on Thursday. He wrote to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell that the bank had not “announced what information it will publicly release” about its dealings with private companies, or even whether it would release the names of individual beneficiaries.”
On Thursday, the General Services Administration updated its frequently asked question page for contractors handling coronavirus-related disruptions.
The Professional Services Council, a trade association, applauded the Defense Department and GSA's acceleration of payments to small business prime contractors and subcontractors, as outlined in the fiscal 2019 and 2020 National Defense Authorization acts. “While not intended to address issues surrounding the COVID-19 emergency, these actions come at a critical time for government contractors and will assist with potential cash flow issues we may expect as a result of COVID-19’s economic impact,” said PSC Executive Vice President and Counsel Alan Chvotkin.
The FBI has seen a vast increase in cyber crimes by domestic and international hackers during the pandemic. On Thursday, Tonya Ugoretz, FBI Cyber Division deputy assistant director,said the internet crimes unit “was receiving between 3,000 and 4,000 cybersecurity complaints each day, a major jump from prior to the COVID-19 pandemic when about 1,000 complaints were received daily,” The Hill reported.
Since Feb. 1, a hacking group with suspected ties to the Chinese government targeted 38 U.S. contracting facilities with access to classified information, Politico reported. “Cleared contractor facilities often receive warnings about hacking attempts from the FBI and [Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency],” according to Politico. “But the notices rarely attribute the malicious activity to a specific group or nation-state as the [counterintelligence agency] did with Electric Panda,” the name of the group.
A whistleblower exposed how a CDC contractor at Maximus, a federal call service provider, did not follow coronavirus guidance and an employee got sick as a result, NBC News reported on Thursday. “I do think that Maximus should stay open because it provides vital information,” Brianna Flores, Maximus employee, told NBC. “But it gets paid with taxpayer dollars, it should be held to a higher standard. It should be doing more to protect the workers.”
Intelligence officials are looking into the possibility that the coronavirus spread from a lab in Wuhan, China, as opposed to a live animal market. “The U.S. does not believe the virus was associated with bioweapons research and the sources indicated there is currently no indication the virus was man-made,” according to CNN. “Officials noted that the intelligence community is also exploring a range of other theories regarding the origination of the virus, as would typically be the case for high-profile incidents, according to an intelligence source.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was the only Republican senator not asked to be on the White House’s bipartisan "Opening Up America Again Congressional Group,” announced on Thursday. Romney was the only Republican senator to vote for one of the articles of impeachment against President Trump earlier this year, but “the bad blood goes back years,” as The Hill reported.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about federal food inspectors’ concerns about health and safety in the processing plants during the pandemic.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.