University of Miami Miller School of Medicine nurse Loreta Padron prepares to test a volunteer for COVID-19 on Sept. 2 in Miami, which is one of 89 cities around the United States that's testing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine nurse Loreta Padron prepares to test a volunteer for COVID-19 on Sept. 2 in Miami, which is one of 89 cities around the United States that's testing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Taimy Alvarez / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: More HHS Shakeups; Vaccine Advisers May Have ‘Unresolved’ Conflicts of Interest

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

As the United States reached the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus, a memorial project placed 20,000 flags on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Monday to remember the lives lost. There was an interfaith commemorative service on Tuesday and the flags will be on display until Wednesday. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.

Medicare does not cover the cost of drugs approved under emergency use authorizations, which could force millions of individuals to pay out of pocket for the coronavirus vaccine that the Trump administration is trying to make free for all, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. “The White House and [Health and Human Services Department] may press Congress to change the language in the CARES Act so that it includes Medicare coverage for a vaccine approved under an emergency-use authorization,” according to the report. “But administration officials are worried about whether the changes can be accomplished in time for a possible October vaccine rollout.” 

The managing editor of a conservative website that has been highly critical of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was also a public relations official for the agency, The Daily Beast reported on Monday. William Crews wrote under a pseudonym for RedState in which he wrote Fauci is “attention-grubbing and media-whoring.” NIAID told The Daily Beast Crews would be retiring from his position after the outlet inquired about his writings. “The Daily Beast could not definitively determine whether Crews was writing for RedState, or posting to his Twitter account, while on the clock at his government job,” said the report. “But the vast majority of his writing at the site this year has been published during the work week, often during normal business hours, raising questions about the ethical use of taxpayer resources.” 

On Monday, the Trump administration moved the two liaisons between the Health and Human Services Department and White House to the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which gives HHS Secretary Alex Azar more control, Politico reported on Monday. White House Liaison Emily Newman “already has spent more than three months detailed to the global media agency as its chief of staff,” said the report. This meant that her deputy, Catherine Granito, “an undergraduate at the University of Michigan as recently as this spring — had been in charge of the health department's personnel while playing a role in shaping policies in the middle of a pandemic.” 

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis published documents on Tuesday that show top “Operation Warp Speed” advisers may have “unresolved” conflicts of interest in the administration's vaccine development process due to their financial holdings. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., subcommittee chairman, said this shows “the need for full cooperation” with his investigation.

Recent executions at a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility in Indiana likely caused recent spikes in coronavirus cases, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act. “Two people died at Terre Haute prison last week from COVID-19. Those deaths were part of a larger outbreak in the wake of the federal government’s decision to carry out an unprecedented number of executions there these past few months during a deadly pandemic,” said Cassandra Stubbs, ACLU Capital Punishment Project director, in a statement on Monday. “The government’s rush to kill has caused senseless risk for incarcerated people, prison staff and everyone who lives in Terre Haute, Indiana.”

The Justice Department inspector general announced on Tuesday it started a review of BOP’s use of home confinements during the pandemic. “The review will assess the BOP’s process for implementing the use of home confinement as authorized under the CARES Act, the process for its consideration of the eligibility criteria outlined in the attorney general’s March 26 and April 3, 2020 memoranda, and the process by which BOP headquarters evaluated wardens’ recommendations that inmates who did not meet the attorney general’s criteria be placed in home confinement,” said the IG. “The review will also select particular cases for examination to determine whether there were irregularities in the BOP’s processes.”

After the CARES Act was passed in March, the Pentagon began using its $1 billion to mainly pay contractors (in most cases for things unrelated to the pandemic) and make things such as jet parts and body armor, instead of bulking up the country’s supply of medical equipment, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, defended the use of the funds, telling the paper, “We need to always remember that economic security and national security are very tightly interrelated and our industrial base is really the nexus of the two.”

During the third quarter of fiscal 2020, the State Department fell short of its enhancing security monitoring goals due to pandemic travel restrictions, according to an update of its president’s management agenda goals, Meritalk reported on Tuesday. The department “conducted no additional surveys and enhanced 0 total facilities during the quarter,” said the report. “Despite these challenges encountered with COVID-19, the department’s security engineering personnel continue to make forward progress by performing system designs, developing project schedules and timelines, and procuring the required equipment in preparation for the lifting of travel and shipping restrictions.” By September 30, 2021, the department hopes to upgrade the security monitoring systems at 92 (20%) of its 460 facilities.

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, established in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, tweeted on Tuesday that it’s seeking feedback on the beta version of its new website. Read Government Executive’s interview with Robert Westbrooks, the committee’s executive director, here

Thirty-four Senate Democrats introduced a bill on Tuesday that would create a task force within the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to investigate allegations of political interference at the public health agencies. The watchdog would produce reports for the relevant congressional committees that could also be made public. 

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany will hold a press briefing at 1 p.m.

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about the next four years of national security and diplomacy under either President Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden, which will likely be impacted by 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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