Coronavirus Roundup: A Dire New Assessment, More Calls to Close National Parks

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

In his bleakest assessment to date of the spreading coronavirus, President Trump warned Americans Tuesday evening to prepare for 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from COVID-19. Here are some of the recent headlines you might have missed.

Federal agencies have spent over $1 billion on contracts related to the coronavirus in the past 6 days, for a total of $1.4 billion since February, Meritalk reported on Tuesday.

Today is National Census Day, and while the national headcount is critical for hospital funding, among many other things, operations have been dramatically shifted to accommodate public health guidance. The Government Accountability Office outlined all the changes in a blog post on Wednesday.

Over three dozen Democratic senators called on the Trump administration to “rescind or clarify new guidance” for senior citizens to receive their stimulus checks, NBC News reported on Wednesday. They believe the Internal Revenue Service should send the payments automatically because the tax filing requirement would be “a significant burden.”

The Defense Department hasn’t yet shipped the 2,000 ventilators it promised to the Health and Human Services Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency because it wasn’t given a location, CNN reported on Tuesday. An HHS spokesperson told CNN that many of the ventilators require special training to use, so those from the HHS stockpile are “are better suited for immediate use.” A FEMA spokesperson did not address the delay in her comment.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday with concerns that the Trump administration rolled back emissions standards for vehicles during coronavirus. “As the United States confronts a respiratory pandemic, I urge EPA to redouble its efforts to improve air quality and to actively support states’ efforts to achieve long-term air quality goals,” she said.

On Tuesday, 10 members of Congress called on the Interior Secretary to close Grand Canyon National Park and other national parks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “Warnings on the [NPS] website and the closure of some park facilities have not proven sufficient to protect public health, prompting grave concerns from federal employees and the local communities nearest our public lands,” they wrote.

The nonprofit Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks wrote a similar letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Tuesday. The organization’s members are retired, former, and current NPS employees.

At least seven National Park Service employees have confirmed cases of coronavirus, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. NPS did not disclose where they work.

The Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval on Tuesday to a coronavirus test that can produce results in two minutes. The test made by Bodysphere, a health technology company, can only detect the virus in people who’ve had it for several days, Axios reported.

In the past few days, federal judges in New York, Pennsylvania and California have allowed a small number of immigrants to be released because of the close proximity and threat of coronavirus spread. However, advocates and lawmakers said the “releases so far are insufficient to address the crisis,” CBS reported.

The Homeland Security Department and Executive Office for Immigration Review announced on Wednesday they are extending the temporary postponement of migrant protection protocol hearings through May 1. All hearings will be rescheduled.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee released a bipartisan statement to express its condolences on the first death of a State Department employee from coronavirus. State Secretary Mike Pompeo did not disclose further details about the person at the time, but said there are four to five positive cases among State employees, Talking Points Memo reported.

Pompeo also said on Tuesday night that two locally employed staff at the U.S. embassies in Jakarta and Kinshasa died from coronavirus, Foreign Policy reported. So far, there are no reported deaths among American staff. 

The U.S. Navy is going to remove most of the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s crew in order to disinfect the ship, following an urgent plea from the aircraft carrier’s captain. The ship has an increasing number of coronavirus cases. Read more from DefenseOne here

The Defense Department invited service members and their families to listen to a conference call between Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday afternoon. They will address the impact of the coronavirus on the military community. 

Over 200 military medical students and graduate nursing students at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, will graduate early to help with the military’s coronavirus response, the university reported. “Our students are uniquely prepared to meet and address the readiness needs of the Department of Defense and our nation the moment they step out of our doors,” said University President Dr. Richard Thomas. 

The nation’s emergency stockpile of medical equipment is running low, Reuters reportedA FEMA spokesperson told Reuters that the agency knows the stockpile alone will not meet the country’s needs and it will “exhaust all means” to get supplies where they’re needed as the demand increases. 

The Trump administration put a “hold” on the United States Agency for International Development’s shipping of personal protective equipment to countries in need as it assesses the demand in the United States, according to Politico. “They’re really trying to walk a fine line between making sure Americans get everything they need and then starting to provide assistance elsewhere, and the vice president’s oversight is slowing down the decision-making process,” a person close to USAID told Politico.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized the federal government on Tuesday for creating an “eBay” like bidding war with states for ventilators. “You have 50 states competing to buy the same item,” he said during his daily briefing. “And then FEMA gets involved and FEMA starts bidding. And now FEMA is bidding on top of the 50. So FEMA is driving up the price. What sense does this make?”

The president said Cuomo “shouldn’t be complaining because we gave him a lot of ventilators” during the briefing on Tuesday night when asked about the “eBay” comment. This comes as the administration has wavered on how and when it’s utilized the 1950 Defense Production Act to obtain critical medical supplies. 

During Trump’s somber press conference on Tuesday about the growing death toll of COVID-19, President Trump thanked the public servants at State, DHS and HHS for their work in bringing U.S. citizens home during the pandemic. 

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

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode covers the lawsuit five federal employees filed against the Trump administration, arguing that they (and others) are due hazard pay because of their exposure to the virus. 

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