Coronavirus Roundup: Union Outlines Demands for Returning to Work; Coronavirus Could Disqualify New Military Recruits
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The Trump administration “shelved” a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guide on reopening the country that was supposed to be published last Friday. These guidelines were more detailed than the White House’s “Opening Up America Again” guidelines. Instead of publishing the report, the administration decided to put the responsibility on states, according to the Associated Press. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration published an update on its efforts to combat pandemic-related fraud. “To date, the FDA has issued 42 warning letters to companies making bogus COVID-19 claims,” said the post. “Additionally, as part of the FDA’s Operation Quack Hack, in just a few short weeks, the agency has discovered hundreds of such products including fraudulent drugs, testing kits and personal protective equipment sold online with unproven claims.”
The House Oversight and Reform Committee called on the FDA on Thursday to revise its policy to allow gay and bisexual men who recovered from coronavirus to be able to donate plasma to help treatment research efforts. “There is no scientific justification for denying [gay men] who have recovered from coronavirus the opportunity to safely donate plasma,” they wrote. “Yet, gay and bisexual men who have recovered from coronavirus and attempted to donate have been turned away in accordance with FDA’s blanket deferral recommendation.”
Politico obtained recordings of calls led by Health and Human Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials between April 24 and May 1 showing their concerns of further coronavirus spread as the president seeks to reopen the country. “In the calls, officials in Washington and their regional counterparts were blunt about their struggle to keep pace with a flood of requests from governors for more medical equipment, even as the president touted the administration’s actions to secure sufficient gear from foreign and domestic producers,” Politico reported.
On Wednesday, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, requested the HHS and the Homeland Security Department provide various types of information and data regarding the federal government’s coronavirus projections and preparations. “The administration continues to share vague, contradictory and even cherry-picked information—which leaves both Congress and the American people in the dark about the likely course of the coronavirus pandemic,” he wrote. “States are moving to relax the stay-at-home orders and other social distancing requirements that have been in place in recent weeks, but even the president has warned that this may lead to increases in deaths from coronavirus.”
The Transportation Security Administration is considering requiring travelers going through security checkpoints to wear facemasks or coverings, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Read more about the situation at TSA from Government Executive.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published a request for information for “public health preparedness and medical advisory services” to help the agency with its emergency management program. The work will involve “CFPB’s controlled space and mitigating its impacts on the CFPB workforce, which includes employees and contractors working at CFPB headquarters in Washington, D.C., in four regional offices, and three support offices (call centers/mail processing),” said the posting. “These services are necessary to ensure the readiness of the CFPB workforce and its operational capacity to fulfill its mission.”
Fourteen unions wrote to congressional leadership on Wednesday asking them to include a directive and funding in future coronavirus legislation for the National Labor Relations Board to create a system for electronic union elections. They emphasized the need for unions to protect workers during the pandemic, but said social distancing guidelines make it “impractical” for in-person voting.
The National Federation of Federal Employees wrote to Trump on Wednesday with a list of demands to protect federal employees as the administration works to reopen the country. “While we share in the desire to resume full government operations as soon as it can be responsibly achieved, it is paramount that workers be protected while performing their duties,” wrote NFFE President Randy Erwin. “We insist that you take these reasonable actions to ensure their safety. Anything less will put hundreds of thousands of dedicated federal employees in unnecessary danger and make the already difficult COVID-19 crisis in this country a magnitude worse than it already is.”
The Defense Department, in coordination with HHS, signed a $126 million contract with the manufacturing company 3M to increase production of N95 masks. Starting in October, 3M will increase production of masks by 26 million per month.
The Defense Department also issued new guidance that could disqualify individuals who have had coronavirus from joining the military. Like other medical conditions, coronavirus will be “permanently disqualifying,” unless the recruit received a waiver, Military Times reported on Wednesday.
Virtual communications platform Zoom announced on Wednesday that it appointed former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to be independent director of its board of directors. Zoom has become increasingly popular in the telework era, but some experts have warned about its security risks. However, DefenseOne reported that the Pentagon approved Zoom for employees, troops and contractors in unclassified situations.
Reps. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., wrote an Op-Ed in the Duluth News Tribune on Wednesday about the need for more assistance for Native Americans during the pandemic. They called for more funding for the Indian Health Service; medical equipment and supplies; and programs for food, water, cleaning products, temporary housing and telecommunications services, among other things.
The Internal Revenue Service said on Wednesday that incarcerated individuals are not eligible for stimulus checks. However, Politico noted “there doesn’t seem to be any part of the CARES Act that specifically prohibits them from getting the money.”
The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration said on Wednesday it launched a study to examine how the pandemic has affected the environment. “NOAA scientists are investigating the impact of decreased pollution in specific areas over the short term, and will analyze measurements collected from its global sampling network of contract airplanes, towers and ground sites at laboratories in Boulder, Colorado and College Park, Maryland,” said the announcement. “In the oceans, NOAA scientists will be assessing impacts of reduced underwater noise levels on marine life.”
HHS Secretary Alex Azar blamed workers’ “home and social” interactions for the coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking facilities on a bipartisan congressional call, Politico reported on Thursday. Read Government Executive’s coverage of federal food inspectors’ concerns about their lack of protections at work.
On Thursday morning, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La.; Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.; Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo.; and Mark Green, R-Tenn., are his selections for the new House select subcommittee to examine the administration's coronavirus response. McCarthy has repeatedly objected to the creation of such a panel. Read more from Government Executive here.
Trump said ousted vaccine official turned whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright “seems like a disgruntled employee that’s trying to help the Democrats win an election by getting out,” during a meeting at the White House on Wednesday. The president said he doesn’t know anything about Bright and never met him. Additionally, “[Bright] comes up with the whistleblower [retaliation allegations]," Trump said. "I always thought [a] whistleblower was sort of a secret thing. Well, everyone knows who he is, so why is it a whistleblower?”
During the briefing on Wednesday, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci would only testify before the Senate because the House “did not act in good faith.” She said House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey “was unable to tell the chief-of-staff what the subject matter was,” and “instead, we got a press release, so that's what we call a publicity stunt.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at the challenges whistleblowers are facing during the pandemic with the insight from a senior investigator at the watchdog Project on Government Oversight.
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 email@example.com.