Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the novel coronavirus Thursday as Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the novel coronavirus Thursday as Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens. Andrew Harnik/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Steps Toward Getting Stimulus Checks Out the Door, Americans View the CDC and HHS Favorably

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

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House coronavirus task force member, said in an interview with NBC on Thursday there could be about 60,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States, which is about half of the number in earlier projections. Although he said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the country might soon see the “curve not only flatten, but [come] down,” he added that we have to remember, “we can get hit by a catastrophic outbreak like this” again. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Internal Revenue Service launched a new online tool on Friday to help non-tax filers receive their economic stimulus checks. Next week, the agency is publishing a second tool for all individuals to check the status of their payments, which will include the estimated arrival time and delivery method, according to a press release.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department is expected on Friday to take the first step in the process of sending out the stimulus checks, Politico reported. It “involves clearing the payments that will be directly deposited, with banks expecting a Treasury Department transmission Friday to confirm the money will reach the right accounts.” Then the IRS will begin processing the payments on Monday, according to Politico

The Trump administration remains on track for getting direct deposits out by the end of next week, Vice President Mike Pence said during the coronavirus briefing on Thursday night. 

In addition to processing stimulus checks, the IRS is also working through an extended tax season. The agency reminded taxpayers on Thursday to use its online resources and assistance. The new filing deadline is July 15. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called on the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration on Thursday to issue better guidance and fix technical problems associated with the paycheck protection program to help small businesses during the pandemic. “Employees can’t afford to miss another paycheck because a key program is having trouble getting off the ground,” she stated.

The U.S. Census Bureau received emergency approval to measure the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak and added five questions to its business surveys, Talking Points Memo reported on Thursday. The bureau also published an article on how census data is “critical to emergency planning, preparedness and recovery efforts for all types of emergencies.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his news conference on Thursday he’s “not confident that any state would have a complete [census] count in this environment,” NPR reported. “It’s an extraordinarily difficult time to be doing the census and I don’t know what we’re going to get.” Cuomo’s state, which has been hit the hardest by the coronavirus, is the fourth most populous in the country. 

A Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency working group with the Election Assistance Commission published a slew of documents for states to use when considering alternative options to in-person voting in upcoming elections. “With election officials reexamining their 2020 election plans to account for [the] impact of COVID19, I am confident these documents can help with tough decisions they face,” said EAC Commissioner Ben Hovland, who is leading the group.  

DefenseOne reported on how intelligence community employees and contractors are dealing with operational changes during the pandemic. Since many cannot telework due to the classified nature of their work, agencies have created alternative schedules to limit the number of individuals working together at once. However, that is causing some “uncertainty” and questions about pay for contractors. 

On Thursday, the Defense Department announced it will allow payments to contractors who cannot work during the outbreak due to facility closures or other restrictions. The $2.2 trillion CARES Act gave agencies such authority. The department also issued updated coronavirus-related guidance on pay and benefits for military families. 

The Pentagon announced on Thursday it’s building two more makeshift hospitals that are expected to be completed by the end of the month. The engineering firm Parsons was granted a $40 million contract for a facility in the Bronx, New York, and construction firm Cutting Edge Group was awarded a $9.7 million contract to make East Orange Hospital in New Jersey into a facility to help treat patients during the outbreak, CNN reported

The Army’s Seattle field hospital is closing after only three days and seeing no patients, Military Times reported on Friday. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said this is so resources can be shifted to areas more in need, but noted, “We have to keep our guard up and continue to stay home unless conducting essential activities to keep everyone healthy."

Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday there are 4,100 active-duty military medical personnel in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  They are “working on the ground, at the Javits Center, working, of course, at the USNS Comfort ship.”

Additionally, Pence said the Veterans Affairs Department facilities in New York City; East Orange, New Jersey; and Detroit are open to coronavirus patients now and the facility in Shreveport, Louisiana, is next. 

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said on Thursday she intends to introduce a legislative package that addresses some of the current supply-chain challenges. Her legislation would require all federal agencies to buy medical equipment from domestic suppliers, give the Defense Department control over the national stockpile, and create  “a library of [Food and Drug Administration]-approved plans” to make it easier to increase manufacturing during crises, Michigan Radio reported

Using emergency public health authority, Customs and Border Protection has expelled about 10,000 migrants since March 21, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. CBP officials may turn away individuals in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “CBP has fewer than 100 detainees in custody, down from nearly 20,000 at this time last year during the border crisis,” officials told the paper. 

Top House Democrats urged CBP and Homeland Security on Thursday to reverse the decision. “Even in light of our current crisis, the United States continues to have a legal obligation to protect vulnerable children and prevent those arriving at our borders from being returned to places where they may face torture and persecution,” they wrote in a letter. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is only counting the number of coronavirus cases among detainees and direct employees, not employees of detention contractors, a Reuters reporter pointed out on Thursday. According to her reporting there are “at least 20 additional immigration detention facility employees that have tested positive for COVID-19 around the country beyond ICE’s count of its own employees.”

In a study conducted from March 24-29 among 1,013 U.S. adults, the Pew Research Center found that Americans continue to rate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health and Human Services Department favorably. However, Republicans have shown more favorable views of those agencies during the Trump era than Democrats. Read the full results here

“The COVID-19 pandemic leaves no doubt–government matters. And good government–with skilled public servants and competent leaders–is important to the health, safety and economic well-being of every person,” Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said in a statement to the press on Thursday.  He called the pandemic a “wake-up call” to fill the many vacant political appointee positions. 

Over 40 House Democrats wrote to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma on Thursday with concerns that agency’s call center employees are in “grave danger” during the pandemic. “It is troubling that, despite universal uncertainty over how long this crisis will last, CMS does not outline a process for creating that telework infrastructure,” they wrote.

During the coronavirus briefing on Thursday night, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said: “We will not tolerate retaliation” for employees who raise concerns about safety conditions during the pandemic. “[The Occupational Safety and Health Administration] will continue to work with workers and employers to keep workplaces safe, using all the tools available to us, including enforcement if needed.” Read more from OSHA on whistleblower protections. 

Seven Democratic senators announced on Friday they wrote to OSHA earlier in the week asking for more employee protections during the pandemic. They requested the agency issue an emergency temporary standard to “provide employers with a consistent roadmap of standards” and to “eventually develop a permanent standard should another such emergency arise in the future.” 

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, complimented how the Indian Health Service has been doing contact tracing to study the spread of the virus among Native populations. “They have strike teams, they are very well organized.  You don't hear about them every day,” she said during the briefing. “That's why I wanted to call them out.  They’re really doing amazing work at their public health institutions, with their governors and their mayors.”

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode examines the roles of inspectors general in the Trump era and what the president’s recent actions mean for oversight and transparency during the pandemic. 

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.