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Coronavirus Roundup: Cyber Agency Warns of SBA Pandemic Loan Impersonator; HHS Advisers Express Concerns on New Data System

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

From March 15 to Aug. 1, the number of deaths in the United States was 211,500 more than during a normal year. There were over 5,208,700 novel coronavirus cases and at least 165,900 deaths, as of Thursday morning, The New York Times reported. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Trump administration struck a $1.5 billion deal with biotechnology company Moderna on Tuesday to secure 100 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine and with the option to acquire up to 400 million more. The company will begin producing the vaccines as clinical trials are underway. This is one of several recent vaccine purchases through “Operation Warp Speed.”

The Health and Human Services Department posted the coronavirus testing plans from all states, territories and localities, which span July to December. "Testing is not just about overall numbers – it is about making sure we're testing the right people at the right time, and incorporating testing into a comprehensive plan for addressing COVID-19," Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Adm. Brett Giroir said. "These state plans, along with ongoing and intensive technical assistance, provided by HHS, inform what level of federal support each state requires to successfully execute SARS-CoV-2 testing priorities."

The Washington Post profiled Peter Marks, a top career official at the Food and Drug Administration who will lead the approval process for a coronavirus vaccine. Current and former associates of Marks have confidence that he won’t let politics get in the way of the decision; however, some scientists are still worried. “I have high faith” in the FDA scientists, but “I think we are seeing things go on and norms destroyed quite commonly” in this administration, said Jesse Goodman, Georgetown University professor and former director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, the position Marks now holds. “We have seen the tremendous pressure put on other science-based agencies, and we haven’t always seen them stand up to that.” He also said he believes the agency’s reputation was hurt by its emergency authorization then reversal for the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus, which the president has championed despite evidence to support its effectiveness. 

Thirty-four current and former members of a federal health advisory committee wrote in a July 31 letter obtained by The New York Times, they are “troubled” by the administration’s decision to switch data reporting responsibilities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to a private contractor through HHS. They advised CDC’s “data experts be allowed to continue their important and trusted work in their mission to save lives and protect Americans from health threats.”

On Wednesday, the Defense Department published an update on travel restrictions at military installations. So far, restrictions have been lifted at 99 of 231 facilities (about 43%). 

The Hispanic National Bar Association called on the Executive Office of Immigration Review on Wednesday to reevaluate the reopening of immigration courts nationwide and come up with a standard procedure. “In immigration courts where telephonic court appearances are not allowed, attorneys are reporting unsafe conditions and a lack of standard rules for reopening or procedures on how to operate once reopened,” HNBA National President Irene Oria said. “In states such as New Jersey and Colorado, even with the availability of videoconferencing, attorneys representing detained individuals are being unnecessarily forced to appear in person for hearings.” This comes after the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s New Jersey chapter filed a lawsuit on July 31 regarding health and safety concerns during in-person hearings. 

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency alerted on Wednesday it’s tracking an unknown “malicious” cyber actor sending phishing emails, pretending to be the Small Business Administration’s coronavirus relief loan website. “These emails include a malicious link to the spoofed SBA website that the cyber actor is using for malicious redirects and credential stealing,” said the agency. 

During the coronavirus briefing on Wednesday evening, a reporter asked the president if he thinks there needs to be a greater federal response for the pandemic, so the economy can recover. “We’re doing better than almost everyone with the economy. And I think we're  – we're  – you know, we face a headwind because Democrats, perhaps for political reasons, don't want to open up their states. And that's having a huge toll,” Trump said in response. “As far as ...the plague is concerned, when you look at the numbers, take a look at what's going on now with other countries, they’re having flare-ups that are very, very substantial, and we've done very well. We're helping a lot of those countries...No, we're doing very well.

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany will hold a briefing at 1 p.m. and Trump will hold a news conference at 5:30 p.m.

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode talks about the recent operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service. The agency is also in the spotlight for the upcoming influx of mail-in ballots for the presidential election amid the pandemic. 

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

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