Coronavirus Roundup: CDC has ‘Limited Role’ in White House Contact Tracing; White House Employees at Risk
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
White House officials will not say when President Trump last tested negative for coronavirus, saying they want to keep it private. Trump keeps lauding his recovery from coronavirus and his physician released a statement on Thursday evening saying he expects the president to be able to return to “public engagements” by Saturday. After first saying he would not participate in a virtual town hall-style debate on October 15 (his campaign announcing he would do a rally instead), Trump is now challenging former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, to an in-person debate in Miami later in the month. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
In the almost eight months since Vice President Mike Pence has been in charge of the White House coronavirus task force, politics have “seeped into decisions” by him and his staff, as public health precautions were often “at odds” with the president’s re-election campaign, The New York Times reported on Thursday. “Some members of Mr. Pence’s staff viewed with suspicion officials from the health agencies, including the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], which had traditionally led the federal government’s responses to infectious disease outbreaks,” said the report. “CDC officials in particular were seen inside the White House as alarmist[s] and a possible source of damaging leaks.”
Dr. Rick Bright, ousted vaccine director turned whistleblower, told CNN on Thursday that Trump saying you shouldn’t be afraid of the coronavirus after he was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center was “probably the most reckless and deadly piece of information I have ever heard.” Earlier this week Bright resigned from his position at the National Institutes of Health where he had been reassigned following his whistleblower complaint.
Kate Andersen Brower, author of the book “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House,” told WTOP about the “hidden” federal employees at the White House who are at risk of contracting COVID-19. “There are about 90 to 95 residence staffers, and these are the butlers, the housekeepers, the cooks, the florists, engineers, and the list goes on and on,” she said on Thursday. They “are incredibly dedicated to their jobs, and they have such great respect for the presidency that they stay on from one administration to the next.”
Four White House residence staff members tested positive for coronavirus about three weeks ago. This includes three housekeeping staff and an assistant to the chief usher, The New York Times reported on Friday. Additionally, a top White House security official has been hospitalized for weeks with COVID-19 and is in “grave condition,” Bloomberg reported earlier this week.
Trump suggested on Thursday that Gold Star families with whom he met on Sept. 27 could have given him coronavirus. He said on Fox News that he “figured there would be a chance” he would get since the family members “come within an inch of my face sometimes. He added, “They want to hug me and they want to kiss me...And frankly, I’m not telling them to back up. I’m not doing it. But I did say it’s obviously dangerous.” This event was a day after the celebration for Judge Amy Coney Barrett that is now considered a potential super-spreader event.
A week after the coronavirus outbreak at the White House, the two CDC epidemiologists are helping in a “limited role” with contact tracing. One was detailed to the White House since March and the other recently joined, The Washington Post reported on Thursday evening.
The pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly applied for emergency use authorization for its coronavirus antibody treatment on Wednesday. This is the second company to do so after the president touted the antibody treatment he received at Walter Reed, Yahoo News reported.
On Thursday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate political interference at the CDC and FDA in regards to coronavirus guidelines and reports, scientific integrity and meddling with career officials. “The independence of these agencies is critical to ensuring that Americans have fact-based information on public health risks and interventions so that they can make informed decisions for themselves, their families, and communities,” the lawmakers wrote. “The real or perceived political interference of these agencies’ work or communication seeds confusion, erodes public confidence, and diminishes the agencies’ credibility—a high cost to pay during a pandemic.”
The Small Business Administration and Treasury Department announced on Thursday they have created a simpler loan forgiveness application for loans $50,000 or less under the Paycheck Protection Program. “Nothing will stop the Trump administration from supporting great American businesses and our great American workers,” said SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza. “The new form introduced today demonstrates our relentless commitment to using every tool in our toolbelt to help small businesses and the banks that have participated in this program.”
The fact that senior Pentagon leaders are in quarantine has had “no impact” on military readiness, Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley said on Thursday. “The Joint Chiefs and I remain in constant communication while in quarantine and the chain of command remains the same.”
The pandemic has complicated the Defense Health Agency’s reforms to the Military Health System. “DHA was planning on offloading about 200,000 TRICARE beneficiaries from treatment at military clinics, and sending them to private practitioners in the local community. However … the Defense Department isn’t sure certain localities will be able to handle the influx of patients anymore,” Federal News Network reported on Thursday. Also, “DOD was planning on cutting as many as 18,000 medical billets and filling them with combat forces to make the military more lethal,” but that has been delayed as well.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at the history of presidential and vice presidential debates, as the ones this year have been altered drastically due to 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.