Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator listens during a "National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America's Schools," event in the East Room of the White House on July 7.

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator listens during a "National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America's Schools," event in the East Room of the White House on July 7. Alex Brandon/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: CBP to Send More Officers to the Southwest Border; Contract Spending Decreases

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

Individuals under 40 now make up the majority of new coronavirus cases. However, older people still account for the majority of deaths, according to an analysis of 17 states by USA Today published on Tuesday. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other members of the White House coronavirus task force have been directly appealing to the millennial generation to follow public health precautions to protect themselves and avoid becoming disease spreaders. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office published a “spotlight” report on the potential for herd immunity (when the majority of the population develops immunity to a disease) for coronavirus. “While researchers have developed estimates for how contagious COVID-19 is, uncertainties about case reporting and testing—such as uncertainty in the accuracy of some tests—make this calculation difficult,” said the report. “Some peer reviewed research on COVID-19 suggests the average number of people infected by a contagious person ranges from about one to seven.”

From March to June, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement held migrants in its prisons for longer periods of time than during the previous two years, according to a review by author and professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández. For example, in June 2020 the average length of stay was 90.3 days compared to 37.8 and 36 days in 2019 and 2018, respectively. “Every day that migrants are imprisoned they are susceptible to contracting the life-threatening illness,” said Hernández. 

On Tuesday, the federal government awarded a total of  $2 billion to two drug companies to develop and manufacture a potential coronavirus vaccine under “Operation Warp Speed.” Regeneron previously received $167.5 million to work on its drug. The other company, Novavax, which was founded in 1987, has never brought a product to market, The Wall Street Journal reported

Hundreds of public health advocates, organizations and location health departments wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging him to protect the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from political interference, Politico reported on Tuesday.  “CDC, state, local, tribal, and territorial public health staff have been working around the clock for months to respond to the pandemic and protect the public, while often relying on overworked staff and inadequate systems that are the result of decades of underfunding,” they wrote. While acknowledging the CDC had “some missteps in their response to COVID-19,” the agency is the “world’s premiere public health institution and should be treated as such during this pandemic.”

Political appointee Pete Marocco’s arrival as a senior advisor at the U.S. Agency for International Development is sparking concerns with career staffers at the agency due to criticism that he created a “toxic work environment” at the Defense, State and Commerce departments where he previously served in the Trump administration, according to a Politico report. The outlet obtained a formal grievance against Marocco claiming he came into the workplace while awaiting the results of a coronavirus test and, thus, potentially, put employees at risk. 

The White House has been working on an executive order since March to shift drug and medical production to the United States to reduce reliance on China. The order would also apply to federal agencies and programs as well. The order could make it harder for the Veterans Affairs Department, Federal Bureau of Prisons and Strategic National Stockpile and other entities to obtain much-needed supplies, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. 

Over the last month, federal agencies’ spending on the coronavirus decreased by over $1 billion, which was due to modifications of contracts. As of July 6, the federal government has about 30,000 coronavirus-related contracts worth $14.1 billion, Meritalk reported on Wednesday. 

The National Treasury Employees Union said on Tuesday that Customs and Border Protection wants to send up to 800 additional CBP officers to the border in Texas. “We have grave concerns about sending additional federal law enforcement personnel into a region where COVID-19 cases are spiking and hospitals are nearly full,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “The situation is already dangerous for the CBP employees stationed there—and their families—and we do not believe CBP is prepared to ensure that the risks of infection are minimized for an additional 800 officers per deployment, who would need personal protective equipment, safe lodging and transportation, and potentially access to health care.” The Trump administration has increased its crackdown on illegal immigration during the pandemic. 

Federal emergency responders have been doing virtual training to prepare for hurricanes and other natural disasters amid the pandemic. This includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, the National Guard and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. “I don’t think there’s any substitute for actually exercising a plan,” said Coast Guard Vice Adm. Steven Poulin. “We’re doing as much as we can virtually to ensure readiness, and we are ready, and we’re going to continue to be ready,” Federal News Network reported

Trump administration officials indicated they are going to extend the public health emergency for the coronavirus, which is set to expire on July 25, Politico reported on Tuesday. HHS must renew the declarations every 90 days, so the extension would last until eight days before the presidential election. 

Individuals in their “impressionable years” (ages 18-25) were less trusting of government leadership and institutions following epidemics worldwide from 2006 to 2018, according to a recent study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Our results are mostly driven by individuals who experienced epidemics under weak governments with less capacity to act against the epidemic, disappointing their citizens,” the authors wrote. “These results imply that the coronavirus may leave behind a long-lasting political scar on the current young generation.”

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at the toll of the pandemic on Native American communities, which already experience vast health disparities. 

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.