The Acadia National Park visitor center near Bar Harbor, Maine, remains closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Some national parks are starting to reopen gradually.

The Acadia National Park visitor center near Bar Harbor, Maine, remains closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Some national parks are starting to reopen gradually. Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: National Parks Begin to Reopen; Interior IG to Review Native American Fund Distribution

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

Top federal health officials are testifying before a Senate committee about testing, vaccine development, reopening the country and other aspects of the federal government’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci said his ongoing concern is that areas will “jump over” checkpoints for reopening that could lead to “little [coronavirus] spikes that might turn into outbreaks.” Also, even if states are reopening at an appropriate pace, they must have the capabilities in place to handle any new cases that they “no doubt” will have, he said. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in a May 7 email that the administration’s initial distribution of remdesivir, the only drug approved to treat coronavirus, was flawed, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Hospitals were told they would be notified directly by AmerisourceBergen Corp., a drug wholesaler that is distributing the drug on behalf of the federal government, if they were chosen to receive remdesivir,” the paper reported. “Hospitals said they were not informed why certain hospitals were chosen and others weren’t, and complained that shipments were failing to reach those who needed the drug most.”

Two days after Birx sent the email to coronavirus task force members, the Health and Human Services Department changed the distribution process, so that states will get the drug and then distribute it to hospitals based on their needs. 

Stat News chronicled the National Institutes of Health’s decision to stop the remdesivir study and begin treating coronavirus patients with it.  “There certainly was unanimity within the institute that this was the right thing to do,” Dr. H. Clifford Lane, clinical director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Stat News. “While I think there might’ve been some discussion, [because] everyone always tries to play devil’s advocate in these discussions, I think there was a pretty uniform opinion that this was what we should do.”

Republicans on the new House select subcommittee established to oversee the federal government’s coronavirus response pushed back on the panel’s first official action on Friday. The panel’s Democrats, led by House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., sent letters to five large, public corporations demanding they return the relief funds they received that were intended for small businesses. “Your letters underscore many of the concerns that we had about the creation of the Select Subcommittee,” the Republicans wrote to Clyburn. “We write to urge you to exercise some basic level of due diligence before publicly attacking hardworking taxpayers whose jobs you are placing in jeopardy. Demanding repayment from these companies seeking to cope with serious economic challenges will only put jobs at risk.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, urged President Trump on Monday to authorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the full pandemic costs for New York, which has the most coronavirus cases and deaths. “You agreed with this proposal, but you have not yet provided FEMA the authority to increase federal cost-sharing for emergency services in New York,” she wrote. “You received this funding request more than a month ago, and I urge you to approve it without further unnecessary delays.” 

Some national parks have begun limited reopenings and visitors are preparing for the “new normal.” However, advocacy groups urged caution to protect visitors and staff members, the Associated Press reported. See the National Park Service’s news releases for specific updates. 

Nearly 120 lawmakers wrote congressional leaders on Monday asking them to include Land and Water Conservation Fund and public lands funding in the next coronavirus relief package. “This is a sensible, strategic and smart addition to any upcoming economic relief legislation,” they wrote. “We must ensure that public lands and waters can accommodate a recovering America with ample infrastructure in good, safe working condition. This is the time to make these critical investments.”

The coronavirus has been particularly difficult for the Navajo Nation and the federal government has been slow to offer assistance, The Washington Post reported on Monday. The Navajo Nation received its $600 million in funding 10 days after it was promised and over a month after President Trump signed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. “Here, on the reservation where the Navajo tribe was forcefully relocated by government decree in 1868, the infection rate is among the highest in the world,” the paper reported. “Navajo leadership says the delay in funding has cost lives, the latest in hundreds of years of injustices delivered to their people, first by the colonial Europeans and now by the U.S. government.”

The Interior Department inspector general is reviewing if the department violated ethics rules in deciding how to distribute CARES Act funds to Native Americans, The New York Times reported on Monday. Lawmakers and tribal leaders have raised concerns about Tara Sweeney, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, because she is a shareholder in the wealthiest Alaska Native corporation and former executive vice president for external affairs that received funding. Additionally, “several tribal governments are suing the federal government over its decision to allow Alaska Native corporations, for-profit businesses that support tribal villages in Alaska, to receive a portion of the $8 billion set aside for tribes, arguing that the corporations should not be eligible for the aid,” the paper stated. 

The Air Force implemented coronavirus screenings at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's Air Mobility Command. “For the first time in AMC history, we started conducting enhanced medical screening in partnership with the 62nd Medical Squadron with hopes of preventing the spread of this horrible virus while still enabling the Department of Defense's mission to continue throughout U.S. Indo-Pacific Command,'' said Air Force Master Sgt. Richard House, the 62nd Aerial Port Squadron contracting officer's representative. ''The secretary of defense's stop-movement [order] has dramatically reduced the number of passengers we receive and send, so that has to play a role in reducing the spread.''

The Homeland Security Department is offering alternative personal identity verification cards to employees and contractors who need to access agency's networks during the pandemic. The process has helped the agency onboard over 100 new employees since March 16 and DHS has issued 76 cards since May 8, Federal News Network reported on Monday.

The Internal Revenue Service reminded individuals that Wednesday at noon is the deadline to submit bank information online to get stimulus checks through direct deposit. The online portal can be accessed here

During a briefing on Tuesday evening, Trump said the administration is talking about a second round of direct payments for coronavirus relief and he wants a payroll tax cut. Trump also said he required White House staffers to start wearing masks. 

Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., introduced a bill on Monday that would repeal the requirements for states to match 20% of the funds they receive from the CARES Act to reduce financial burdens as states work to conduct safe elections. As Politico noted on Tuesday, there has been bipartisan objection to this requirement.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., introduced legislation on Monday that would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create a temporary emergency standard to protect employees from occupational coronavirus exposure.  

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode examines what federal employees can do if they have to return to unsafe workplaces. 

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany will hold a briefing at 2 p.m. 

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