Coronavirus Roundup: Advocacy Group Outlines Potential Issues with EPA’s Reopening; Democrats Demand Investigation of ‘Project Airbridge’
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The National Bureau of Economic Research said on Monday the United States is officially in a recession due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bureau said the economy’s peak in February marked the end of a 128-month expansion (that began in June 2009) and was the longest dating back to 1854. “The unprecedented magnitude of the decline in employment and production, and its broad reach across the entire economy, warrants the designation of this episode as a recession, even if it turns out to be briefer than earlier contractions,” said the announcement. Here are a few other recent headlines you might have missed.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Tuesday they requested that the Pandemic Accountability Response Committee investigate the Trump administration’s “Project Airbridge” to obtain medical supplies and equipment. "Our investigation found ‘Project Air Bridge’—like the broader Trump administration response to coronavirus—has been marked by delays, incompetence, confusion, ethics questions, and secrecy across multiple federal agencies and in the White House," Warren said. "Taxpayers have shelled out tens of millions of dollars on this secretive project and they deserve to know whether it actually helped get critical supplies to the areas most in need."
Despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than half of the states are reporting “probable” coronavirus cases and deaths, according to a review by The Washington Post. California, Florida, North Carolina and New York are some of those states. “In pandemic circumstances, such as with COVID-19, collecting complete information on each case is challenging,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told the paper. “The current case and deaths counts reported to CDC are likely an undercount.”
The USS Kidd, the second Navy warship stricken by the coronavirus, will likely return to sea next week. Previously, about 30% of the crew tested positive for coronavirus, CNN reported on Monday.
Federal News Network has a detailed look at what the first phase of the State Department’s reopening––slated to begin on June 15––will look like. While telework is not mandatory in Phase 1, State officials “strongly encourage maximum use of telework opportunities.”
The advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility claimed on Tuesday the Environmental Protection Agency is failing the CDC’s criteria for reopening. “In recent days, EPA has announced it will open regional offices located in Atlanta, Kansas City and Seattle. In the same period, it has reversed plans to re-open offices in Boston and Dallas,” said the group. “EPA has yet to release data establishing that those offices slated to re-open meet CDC criteria for testing availability and disease abatement, nor have offices set forth social distancing or other safeguards prescribed in CDC guidance.”
Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote “our plan for a phased return to our offices is both measured and deliberate to minimize risk to your health,” in an all-employee message sent on June 1, obtained by PEER. “Our plan provides for a ‘rolling reopening,’ so each facility will enter Phase 1 after two thorough reviews of health information that meets the gating criteria while keeping in mind any city, state or county requirements as well,” he said.
On Tuesday, Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., led a bipartisan call to the Health and Human Services Department to quickly distribute relief funds to hospitals serving low-income and vulnerable patients. “We sincerely appreciate the funding that has reached our states...[and] the responsiveness of your staff when addressing issues related to the distribution of initial tranches of funding,” the lawmakers wrote. However, “the distribution methodology used by the [HHS] has not sufficiently addressed the needs of hospitals and health providers who disproportionately serve Medicaid and low-income patients” and “operate on razor thin margins under the best of circumstances.”
The Food and Drug Administration launched two new websites on Monday to share more information about its work on the coronavirus. One focuses on the FDA’s innovative work and the other provides educational resources.
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