People walk past posters encouraging participation in the 2020 Census in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood in early April.

People walk past posters encouraging participation in the 2020 Census in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood in early April. Ted S. Warren / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Census Bureau Launches Pandemic Data Hub; Federal Prison System Expands Testing 

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

On Friday afternoon, President Trump signed the “Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act,” which will provide $484 billion in coronavirus relief funding for small businesses and hospitals. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

On Thursday, the Census Bureau launched a coronavirus data hub. The online tool has information on economic indicators, population demographics and businesses affected by the virus. 

The Census Bureau has turned to texting campaigns, advertisements on the streaming service Spotify and virtual events in lieu of fieldwork that has been suspended during the pandemic, Politico reported. However, “local officials warn that millions could still slip through the cracks” since “Spotify may not reach the hardest to count parts of the U.S. population” and “those are the people in-person canvassers normally try to cajole to fill out census forms in person or online.”

The Treasury Department said on Thursday it might not meet the Sunday deadline to distribute CARES Act funds to some Native American tribes. A Justice Department attorney told a federal judge “the [Treasury] department hasn’t determined whether unique Alaska Native corporations are eligible for a share of the money,” PBS News reported. “Meanwhile, the number of tribes suing the federal government to try and keep the funding out of the hands of the corporations [is] growing.” The lawsuits argue “that Congress intended the money to go only to the 574 tribes that have a government-to-government relationship with the United States.” 

Over 15 million immigrants and their families won’t get a coronavirus stimulus check because Congress said recipients must have Social Security numbers, Politico reported on Friday. “Most of this excluded group consists of undocumented immigrants, but it also includes some legal immigrants, including many foreign students and spouses. Some of these immigrants also pay taxes, but file with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number instead of a Social Security number.” 

House and Senate leaders on the small business committees wrote to the Small Business Administration on Thursday with serious concerns on its possible exposure of personal information from coronavirus loan applicants. “The American people deserve a detailed accounting of what policies and procedures SBA has implemented to protect small business owners’ personally identifiable information given the volume and sensitivity of the information the agency now receives,” they wrote. 

The Defense Department published a slew of new coronavirus guidance documents for service members on Thursday. The documents cover: special and incentive pay, the impact of travel restrictions on allowances for housing entitlements, the TRICARE Reserve Select insurance plan and hardship pay due to restriction of movement. 

A new survey on the impact of the pandemic on small businesses by the National Defense Industrial Association, a trade association that represents federal contractors, found that meeting contract obligations, access to capital and revenue expectations are the contractors’ biggest challenges. 

The defense industry association applauded Congress’ passage of the new coronavirus relief legislation. “The $484 billion bill, which also assists hospitals and funds more coronavirus testing capacity, passed with strong bipartisan support,” NDIA said in a statement on Thursday. “Small business is not just the engine of economic growth, but the engine of American innovation. It is the key to the supply chains that deliver the superior capabilities and services that keep our warfighters advantaged globally.” 

Attorney General William Barr directed U.S. attorneys to prioritize cases regarding allegations of landlords asking renters (with economic hardships due to the pandemic) for sexual favors instead of rent. “The current times are difficult enough without predatory practices by unscrupulous landlords,” Barr wrote in a memo obtained by CBS News. “We must stop such behavior in its tracks. I thank you for your attention to this important initiative and for your service to our country.” 

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, said on Thursday she plans to call Dr. Rick Bright to testify regarding his removal as the head of the agency that is central to vaccine development, CNN reported. In a statement sent by a law firm that will represent Bright in a whistleblower complaint, Bright blamed political interference for his ouster.

Eshoo told CNN she also plans to call Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Bob Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, to testify before her subcommittee. "I don't know where this began—why, who where, when," she said. "But I think it deserves to be examined and the story told."

The watchdog Project on Government Oversight launched an online campaign to call on Congress to investigate Bright’s “demotion” within HHS. During the coronavirus briefing on Thursday night, the president would not answer questions about Bright. 

A CNN investigation uncovered now-deleted racist tweets by the new HHS spokesman. Michael Caputo, a Republican operative who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, deleted almost his entire Twitter history from before April 12, which included racist remarks and conspiracy theories regarding the coronavirus outbreak. 

Federal News Network spoke with the General Services Administration’s acquisition commissioner on how the agency is handling the surge of contract demands during the pandemic. “I’ve heard from customers and other folks that GSA has not missed a beat in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. A lot of that is due to our telework capability and, in large part, the GSA IT shop has just been phenomenal,” Julie Dunne told Federal News Network. “Things we are seeing a lot of demand for, you won’t be surprised to hear, medical equipment, hand sanitizer and masks. We also are doing a lot in the [information technology] world in terms of trying to support other agencies with telework capacity.”

After some confusion, the Federal Bureau of Prisons issued new guidance on Wednesday to chief executive officers on inmates who can be considered for home confinements, according to a memo provided to Government Executive from a union official on Thursday. The new guidance says that BOP is prioritizing home confinements for those who have served more than half of their sentences or have 18 months or less left and have served 25% or more of their sentences. Also, pregnant women should be considered for placement in community programs or home confinement, the guidelines said. 

BOP also announced on Thursday it’s expanding coronavirus testing for inmates, as the number of positive cases has been increasing rapidly. The agency said it obtained 10 rapid testing machines and 264 testing kits on April 10 from Abbott labs and expects to receive 10 more machines next week.  

During the briefing on Thursday evening, the White House presented a study on how the coronavirus might subside during the summer due to interaction with ultraviolet light, heat and humidity. The Homeland Security Department did the study in the U.S. Army’s biosecurity laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md. The results have not been peer-reviewed yet. 

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning on Friday that people should not take chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine (drugs championed by the president) without hospital or clinical trial approval. “We will continue to investigate risks associated with the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for COVID-19 and communicate publicly when we have more information,” the FDA stated, The Washington Post reported

Peter Hotez, vaccine and tropical disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine, tweeted, "Information presented at WH Press briefing should not be considered evidence of virus slowing or seasonality. Just look at what’s happening now in Ecuador," Politico noted. Ecuador is one of several warm-weather countries with a severe or ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

FBI, HHS and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released joint guidance on Friday on how health care facilities can mitigate security risks during the pandemic. 

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at how the pandemic presents an opportunity to modernize government technology systems in order to increase efficiency.  

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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