Healthcare workers from Jackson Memorial Hospital clap and cheer as they watch the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron fly by, Friday, May 8, 2020, in Miami.

Healthcare workers from Jackson Memorial Hospital clap and cheer as they watch the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron fly by, Friday, May 8, 2020, in Miami. Wilfredo Lee/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Pentagon Outlines Return to Normal Operations; TSA Updates Screening Procedures

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 during an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday he’s concerned that the name “Operation Warp Speed” gives the misleading idea that the federal government is cutting too many corners to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine. “You’re doing things in a totally unprecedented way, and you’re going really fast, but not compromising safety because you haven’t cut out any of the steps you would have done had you done it the traditional way,” he said. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Defense Department said on Wednesday it’s allowing base commanders “to begin planning to return to normal operations in the COVID environment.” Secretary Mark Esper published a guidance memo describing how and when commanders should decide to lift restrictions at military installations. Read more from Defense One here

Related, on Thursday, the Pentagon outlined how military medical facilities should decide how to resume elective surgeries. It said these guidelines align with the Trump administration's “Opening Up America Again” plan. Read the fact sheet and memo here. 

The USS Theodore Roosevelt is back at sea after being docked in Guam for two months following a massive coronavirus outbreak. Only a portion of its approximately 5,000-member crew is aboard currently and they are following public health guidance, The Hill reported on Wednesday.

Following a call with HHS officials on Wednesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he was “pleased” the agency is “heeding my calls for more transparency” on the administration’s distribution of coronavirus drugs and vaccines. Read Government Executive’s coverage from last week on concerns from lawmakers about how hospitals were left in the dark about who was getting the most sought after drugs. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons said on Wednesday it extended its guidance from March 31 that put facilities under a “modified lockdown” to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. This is effective through June 30, after which the bureau will reevaluate the situation. 

On Thursday, the Transportation Security Administration announced it’s implementing changes to its security screenings to prevent the spread of coronavirus among travelers. Most will be rolled out nationwide by mid-June as summer travel ramps up. “In the interest of TSA frontline workers and traveler health, TSA is committed to making prudent changes to our screening processes to limit physical contact and increase physical distance as much as possible,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “We continue to evaluate our security measures with an eye towards making smart, timely decisions benefiting health and safety, as well as the traveler experience.” Read more here about what you can expect. 

An NBC News investigation found that the Trump administration paid a “huge premium” for a contract to obtain machines to clean masks, so they can be reused up to 20 times, however the machines don’t meet that standard. “Scientists and nurses say the recycled masks treated by these machines begin to degrade after two or three treatments, not 20, and the company says its own recent field testing has only confirmed the integrity of the masks for four cycles of use and decontamination,” said NBC. Also, “five days after the deal became public, an NIH-led study concluded that the hydrogen peroxide vapor method of decontamination is only safe for three cycles.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to improve management and deployment methods of its surge capacity force, according to a Homeland Security Department inspector general report published on Wednesday. The review was based on FEMA’s activities in 2017 in which it responded to several hurricanes and wildfires. The IG made several recommendations that could pertain to how FEMA is operating during the pandemic.

Studying Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service data and guidance, the Government Accountability Office found there were “widespread and persistent” infection control “deficiencies” in nursing homes’ between 2013 and 2017. Nursing homes have been hit particularly hard with coronavirus outbreaks, so lawmakers asked GAO Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked for the review. “Future GAO reports will examine more broadly infection prevention and control and emergency preparedness in nursing homes and CMS’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including recent actions CMS has announced,” said the report published on Wednesday. 

GAO also issued a spotlight report on Wednesday on the coronavirus tests the Food and Drug Administration has authorized so far. It describes how each test works, lists challenges and opportunities and poses several policy questions for agencies. 

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at how and when federal employees can return to their offices as states are beginning to reopen.

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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