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Coronavirus Roundup: Defense Looks to Further Expand Telework; High-Ranking Space Force Official Tests Positive 

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

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that small indoor gatherings of friends and family could be leading to the coronavirus spikes around the country and expressed concerns about Thanksgiving and other upcoming winter holiday celebrations during an online event on Wednesday, as NBC News reported. “You don't want to be the Grinch that stole the holidays," said Fauci. “But I think one family group and individual has to take a look at what the risk is to your particular situation.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The second highest-ranking official in the U.S. Space Force tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday. Vice Chief of Space Operations General David Thompson is now quarantining and working from home, Space Force’s public affairs said.

The Defense Department is looking for more ways to expand telework capabilities beyond the pandemic. To start, the plan it developed in March for virtual work, calls and video conferences will be in place through June 2021, John Sherman, Defense principal deputy chief information officer, said at an event on Wednesday. “I think [the telework infrastructure] is a gold standard for the government, what we've been able to do here in DoD,” he said. “We are currently working on a more enduring Office 365-based capability.”

Seven Democratic senators wrote to the Health and Human Services Department on Wednesday demanding it doesn’t cut public health funds (including coronavirus relief) for cities that the administration deemed “anarchist jurisdictions,” a move officials are considering according to a Politico report last week. “Tying federal funds for local public health efforts to an arbitrary definition of ‘anarchist jurisdictions’ is of questionable legality and an appalling abuse of power,” they wrote. “Any arbitrary funding cuts to these programs would have detrimental effects on the vulnerable communities they serve, as well as negatively impact the delivery of crucial health care services during a historic crisis this administration has utterly failed to mitigate…[and] could further exacerbate the health inequities already made worse by this pandemic.”

Michael Caputo, top HHS spokesman currently on medical leave who spearheaded the public $300 million relations campaign to “inspire hope” about the pandemic, tried to frame the messaging around “helping the president,” Politico reported on Thursday. He also “sought to overrule the career civil servants assigned to the campaign, directly urging contractors to rush production of ads with celebrities like Trump-supporting actor Antonio Sabato Jr.,” according to the report. HHS is now reviewing the campaign, which isn’t expected to run before Election Day.  

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ advisory committee on emergency awards and the coronavirus will have a closed meeting on November 20 to “review and evaluate grant applications,” according to a notice posted in the Federal Register on Thursday. 

HHS, FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a joint report on Wednesday about “an increased and imminent cybercrime threat” to hospitals and health care providers, as seen by data theft, ransomware attacks and disruption of services. 

The Trump administration released its plan on Wednesday to ensure Americans receive free coronavirus vaccines. “The regulations guarantee that seniors covered through Medicare won’t pay anything for the vaccine, though private Medicare plans may not have to cover the shots if the cost is significant — in which case CMS would pick up the tab through the traditional Medicare program,” Politico reported. “But the administration plans to tap existing funds set aside earlier this year to help pay for COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured...The rule also mandates private coverage of vaccines under [emergency use authorization].” The rule will be implemented immediately, but there will also be a 30-day comment period, The Wall Street Journal noted

In a report on Wednesday, the Small Business Administration IG gave 10 recommendations on how the department can lower the risks of fraud in its disaster assistance program and prevent sending payments to ineligible businesses, based on how SBA handled its initial pandemic loans. As of July 31, $78.1 billion (about 38%) of the $189.3 billion in economic injury disaster loans and grants distributed could have been susceptible to fraud or sent to the wrong recipients, according to the IG.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee released a report on Wednesday that outlines the Trump administration’s vast rollbacks of environmental regulations over the last almost four years. “Public health risks associated with air pollution are particularly acute during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the report. “Despite these dangers, the Trump administration has continued to jeopardize the health and safety of our communities and environment by rolling back clean air protections [and] protecting the bottom line of polluters at the expense of human health.”

Similarly, the House Natural Resources committee published a report on Wednesday about the administration's assaults on the environment, wildlife and indigenous people during its first term. “In the first days of the U.S. outbreak, while the focus should have been on emergency public health measures, the Trump administration used federal agencies’ limited resources to boost fossil fuel development and weaken environmental safeguards,” said the report. “While the rest of the country was focused on surviving, the Trump administration focused on taking advantage of an opportunity to approve long-sought industry demands while public attention was elsewhere.”

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about transition planning, altered by the pandemic, with less than a week until the presidential election.  

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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