Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a July 31 congressional hearing. Fauci was in surgery on Aug. 20 when the coronavirus task force discussed a change in guidance.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a July 31 congressional hearing. Fauci was in surgery on Aug. 20 when the coronavirus task force discussed a change in guidance. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Concern Over Political Interference and Whether Troops Have Been Adequately Protected

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

Intelligence officials said on Wednesday they have "no information or intelligence" to show that foreign countries are trying to undermine the mail-in voting process, which undercuts much of what President Trump has been saying throughout the pandemic. Nevertheless, the Homeland Security Department is preparing to run a “war room” for possibly a week or longer in November to monitor any hacking or disinformation attempts for the vote count that might take more than one night, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, a division of the Health and Human Services Department, compiled a list of useful resources as it is responding to Hurricane Laura as it hits the Gulf Coast amid the pandemic. This includes: information on shelters, training for emergency responders, and pandemic-specific resources and assistance for older individuals and children. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor said on CBS on Thursday that Defense Department, National Guard, American Red Cross and Salvation Army officials have been deployed as part of the response. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was pressured from top Trump administration officials to change its guidelines to say people who don’t have coronavirus symptoms don’t need to be tested, even if they were exposed to the virus, CNN reported on Wednesday. Additionally, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said he was in surgery on Aug. 20 while the task force was discussing the possible change in guidance. "I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern,” he told CNN. “In fact it is.” 

On Wednesday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; and Edward Markey, D-Mass., asked the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to investigate possible political interference in the Trump administration's coronavirus pandemic response. They argued that politics has gotten in the way of implementing a national testing strategy, the president is playing political favorites among states and the administration is pressuring the public health agencies to change or revoke various guidelines. 

Three senior Food and Drug Administration officials and outside experts said the Trump administration could “permanently damage the [FDA’s] credibility,” due to its alleged political interference, Stat News reported on Thursday. Additionally, former conservative journalist and activist Emily Miller was brought on as the top agency’s spokesperson on August 17. “The position is typically filled by nonpolitical civil servants, not overtly political activists,” and the move “has particularly dispirited FDA staff, senior agency officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity,” according to the report. 

The FDA granted emergency use authorization on Wednesday for a coronavirus test from Abbott labs that costs $5 and can generate results in 15 minutes without any lab equipment. The company will soon be producing 50 million tests per month. 

Nine Democratic senators wrote to Defense Department Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday with concerns about coronavirus protections for service members and their families following a rise in cases at the department in July. They also noted the department didn’t fully answer their questions outlined in a previous letter sent in April. “We are pleased to see that the department is taking some precautionary measures to address the spread of the virus, but are concerned that the department is still not properly prioritizing the health and well-being of our service members,” they wrote in a letter obtained by Politico. “Congress stands ready to support the department, but we cannot do so if basic questions are not answered regarding DoD’s response.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union said on Wednesday that the number of coronavirus deaths among federal and state incarcerated individuals and prison staff reached 1,000. The data is from state facilities, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and media reports. “This tragic milestone serves as a reminder: Much of the public discourse has moved on from the people who are languishing in prisons and jails,” said Cynthia Roseberry, the ACLU Justice Division’s deputy director of policy. “The Department of Justice, governors, judges, prosecutors, police, and other actors in the system still have the power to release people or prevent them from entering in the system in the first place. We will continue fighting and encourage them to do so.”

The Interior and Homeland Security departments and Office of Management and Budget have been changing their approach to employee “reskilling” due to the pandemic and the shift to a virtual work environment for many civil servants. “Some of the low value work we were doing has dropped away because we aren’t in the office to do it,” Robyn Rees, senior adviser on workforce trends and innovative workforce planning processes at the Interior Department, told Federal News Network. “In some cases that has freed us up to be truly collaborative and more effective. In other cases that has freed us up to do more cross-servicing with fewer people, leaving room for some to consider alternate opportunities where workforce gaps are known,” the outlet reported on Wednesday. 

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at the operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service as it braces for the surge of mail-in voting due to the pandemic. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy recently testified about both before the House and Senate. 

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.