Motorists line up at a coronavirus testing site set up at Dodger Stadium on May 26 in Los Angeles.

Motorists line up at a coronavirus testing site set up at Dodger Stadium on May 26 in Los Angeles. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Pentagon Plans for Return to Normalcy; Lawmakers Seek More Research and Funding for Science Amid the Pandemic 

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

According to a survey in May from the Census Bureau, one-third of Americans now show signs of anxiety or depression, which suggests “a huge jump from before the pandemic,” The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Public health experts and politicians have been raising concerns that the coronavirus outbreak has a mental impact in addition to physical one due to increased isolation, fears of financial losses, health concerns and more. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Trump administration’s national testing strategy released to Congress on Sunday that puts the responsibility on states to carry out federal guidance is drawing mixed reaction from lawmakers. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said on Tuesday the “strategy correctly recognizes that governors do not want President Trump telling them what their state testing plans should be” since “governors know best the differences between New York City and rural Tennessee and how to test and find and isolate those who have been infected and exposed.”

Meanwhile, top House and Senate Democrats said the Trump administration is not taking enough responsibility for nationwide testing. “This disappointing report confirms that President Trump’s national testing strategy is to deny the truth that there aren’t enough tests and supplies, reject responsibility and dump the burden onto the states,” they wrote. “We still need clear explanations for how targets were set, how they will be met, and what will be done if they are not.” 

The Government Accountability Office released a spotlight report on Tuesday about the ongoing development of a coronavirus vaccine and the expedited approvals from the Food and Drug Administration. As of May 15, there are over 110 vaccines being developed worldwide and at least three in the United States are receiving federal funding.

A group of House Democrats wrote to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on Tuesday asking it to direct the science-based federal agencies to work together to study the potential seasonality of the coronavirus. “It’s critical that we engage the federal scientific community to further our understanding of COVID-19 as we work to keep communities safe and reduce the spread of the virus,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., chairwoman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Environment. “Coordinated federal research on seasonality will help us predict patterns of transmission as the seasons change, so that we can direct resources to those most at risk.”

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation to increase the United States’ investments in science and technology. “The coronavirus pandemic has shown the science and technology gap between the United States and the rest of the world is closing fast and that threatens our long-term health, economic competitiveness, and national security,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “To ensure our advantage, our bill treats scientific research as a national security priority and provides substantial new investments into funding critical research and development to build the industries of the future in regions across the country.” 

Ten Democratic senators asked the Census Bureau on Tuesday for information on how it plans to count the homeless population amid the pandemic. Before the onset of the virus, the bureau planned to count those experiencing homelessness at outdoor locations, emergency shelters, soup kitchens and stops for mobile food vans, but these plans have been delayed without a rescheduling. The lawmakers asked for a detailed plan by June 2 on how the agency plans to ensure that all are counted. 

On Wednesday, House Oversight and Reform Committee Democrats introduced a bill that would grant the Census Bureau its requested delays for reporting dates due to the pandemic. “In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, extending our nation’s 2020 Census operations is a safe and essential step in ensuring all communities are represented and accurately counted,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., committee vice chairman.  “We simply cannot allow an undercount of our communities to result in millions of lost federal funding to support small businesses, schools, health care systems, and other critical services and resources. There is far too much at stake.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court said for now it would not stop an order (as requested by the Trump administration) from a federal judge in Ohio to move or release inmates at a federal correctional institution with a massive coronavirus outbreak. However, the court said the administration could try again “if circumstances warrant,” The Washington Post reported

Customs and Border Protection extended closures of its “Trusted Traveler Program” enrollment centers until at least July 6. These programs allow individuals to use expedited lanes in airports when traveling. “In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CBP extended the period of time that Trusted Traveler Program applications remain active. Each applicant now has 485 days from the date that CBP conditionally approves his or her application to complete the enrollment process,” said the agency. “In addition, CBP will extend for up to 18 months the Trusted Traveler Program benefits of members who apply for renewal before their current membership expires.”

The Justice Department is closing its investigation of the stock sales by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; and Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., after they received briefings on the looming threat of the coronavirus earlier this year. However, it’s continuing a related investigation into Burr, who had more direct involvement in his sales and said he was relying on news reports from Asia, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.  

On Tuesday, the Defense Department laid out its rules on how it will return to normal operations worldwide. “While the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic still presents risk to DoD Service members, civilians, and their families, improving conditions warrant a transition in our approach to domestic and overseas personnel travel to a conditions-based, phased approach to personnel movement and travel,” said the guidelines. Read Defense One’s full coverage here

The Pentagon also released guidance on the deployment and redeployment of troops, National Guard members and Defense civilian employees during the pandemic. It covers screening and isolation procedures for those potentially exposed to the virus. The memo says “DoD strongly recommends deploying” contractor personnel also follow this guidance. 

As agencies start to bring employees back to offices, the Environmental Protection Agency’s largest union is pushing back on EPA’s plans. The American Federation of Government Employees said the agency has no data to suggest it’s ready to reopen, Bloomberg Law reported. Read Government Executive’s coverage on how other agencies are planning for their returns.  

Upon coming into office in 2017, the Trump administration stopped working on new federal regulations that would protect health workers from airborne viruses, such as the coronavirus, as part of its deregulatory agenda, NPR reported on Tuesday. "If that rule had gone into effect, then every hospital, every nursing home would essentially have to have a plan where they made sure they had enough respirators and they were prepared for this sort of pandemic," David Michaels, Occupational Safety and Health Administration head from 2009 to 2017, told NPR. "H1N1 made it very clear OSHA did not have adequate standards for airborne transmission and contact transmission, and so we began writing a standard to do that.” 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Debra Haaland, D-N.M., wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post on Tuesday saying during the pandemic the federal government has once again failed the Native American community.  “The federal response to covid-19 in Indian Country is unacceptable—and the American people strongly agree,” they wrote. “New surveys from Data for Progress found a bipartisan majority of Americans support increasing funding for the Indian Health Service, holding the federal government legally responsible for upholding its treaty obligations, including health care, and allowing Native nations to interact directly with the federal government to receive aid instead of going through states.”

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode compares how public and private workforces are handling the pandemic. 

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