Coronavirus Roundup: EPA Union Asks for Transparency on Reopenings; OSHA Provides Guidance on Wearing Masks at Work
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
There are now over 2 million coronavirus cases in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University’s data. A poll released by CNN on Wednesday showed Americans are about evenly split over whether they feel comfortable returning to their normal routines. However more Republicans (73%) and Independents (53%) are comfortable than Democrats (23%) in doing so. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons ended its national lockdown on Tuesday, according to a memo shared with Government Executive on Thursday. The lockdown––its first in almost 25 years––was due to the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd while in police custody. BOP “will resume our COVID-19 ‘Enhanced Modified Movement’ procedures,” said the memo. This is what staff and union officials are calling a “modified lockdown” to restrict inmate movement.
As BOP battles outbreaks in its 122 locations nationwide, it said on Thursday it’s hosting a virtual career fair to hire registered nurses on June 23. Read more information here.
On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the White House coronavirus task force to brief Democratic senators on the recent coronavirus spikes. “The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t go away while the nation rightfully turned its eyes to issues of racial justice,” he said in a press release. “The president was too quick to sideline the Coronavirus Task Force, too eager to pretend that everything was back to normal and better than ever. The country needs [National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director] Dr. [Anthony] Fauci on billboards, but the president wants to put him on a milk carton.”
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, announced new staff members added to the committee on Thursday. “Their skill and expertise will be essential to our efforts to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of the American people,” Clyburn said. “Each staff member will play an integral role in ensuring that the response to the coronavirus crisis is effective, efficient and equitable.” Read the names and bios of the new staff members here.
On Wednesday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it published a question and answer series on wearing masks in the workplace. "As our economy reopens for business, millions of Americans will be wearing masks in their workplace for the first time," OSHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt said. "OSHA is ready to help workers and employers understand how to properly use masks so they can stay safe and healthy in the workplace."
Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza testified before the Senate Small Business Committee on Wednesday about progress distributing paycheck protection program relief loans. “The agency has brought on thousands of staff to support our COVID-19 disaster operations, while still servicing 175 natural disaster declarations,” she said. Also, the SBA is working with the Agriculture Department, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Treasury Department, General Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency on their “immediate economic response efforts” during telework status.
On Wednesday, the Defense Department announced five actions, worth $135 million, under the 1950 Defense Production Act to boost production and workforce capabilities for its coronavirus response. The actions "will help sustain defense-critical workforce capabilities in body armor, aircraft manufacturing and shipbuilding,” said Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, Defense spokesman. “These actions will help to retain critical workforce capabilities throughout the disruption caused by COVID-19 and to restore some jobs lost because of the pandemic. The department remains closely partnered with FEMA and [the Health and Human Services Department], providing almost $2.9 billion in life-saving medical services, supplies and equipment to service members and federal agencies in the nation's whole-of-government approach to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Merit Systems Protection Board extended its mandatory telework until July 3. The e-appeal online system is still open and MSPB is continuing to work with filers to host adjudications and hearings remotely, Federal News Network reported on Wednesday.
Detainees at an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facility in Arizona with one of the highest number of coronavirus cases said they were forced to clean the facility and are not being protected from the outbreak. The advocacy group Florence Immigrants & Refugees Rights Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of migrants. ICE would not comment on the pending litigation, but said ICE has been following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. NBC News reported on this.
The New York Times launched a coronavirus vaccine tracker on Wednesday. It has the trial phases and companies involved for the possible cures. As of Thursday morning, there are over 125 vaccines in the pre-clinical phase worldwide. Fauci has repeatedly said he is “cautiously optimistic” there will be a vaccine by the end of the year.
The American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents about 7,500 workers at the Environmental Protection Agency, called on the agency to cease reopening its regional offices until employees better understand its reopening calculations. “The EPA and the administration have begun implementing a convoluted plan for EPA employees to return to the office to conduct non-public facing work, even though no regional office can come close to meeting CDC guidelines,” said email to the press on Wednesday. “Rushing EPA workers back to the office will put workers’ lives at risk, while providing no benefit to the economy. EPA management has informed Regions 4, 6, and 10 that their offices could be open as soon as mid-July, even though the agency has not provided any data to indicate how it came to the conclusion that employees would be safe.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode features Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver talking about how his state is moving into phase two of reopening. According to the Office of Personnel Management's most recent data there are about 136,648 federal employees in Virginia, which represents about 6.6% of the federal workforce.
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.