Vice President Mike Pence gestures as he speaks at a campaign rally at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Reno, Nev., on Thursday.

Vice President Mike Pence gestures as he speaks at a campaign rally at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Reno, Nev., on Thursday. Lance Iversen/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Pence has Been Absent from Calls With Governors; IG Notes Risks of Moving Secret Service During a Pandemic

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

On Thursday, the United States reported at least 90,000 new coronavirus cases, which averages more than one per second. Also, the country reached over 9 million cases since the onset of the pandemic, The New York Times reported. “The surge that started in the Upper Midwest and rural West has now spread far beyond, sending infection levels soaring in places as disparate as El Paso, Chicago and Rexburg, Idaho,” said the paper. “In the seven-day period ending Thursday, 24 states added more cases than in any other seven-day stretch of the pandemic.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, established in the CARES Act, submitted its first semi-annual report on Thursday. The report, which spans April 1 to September 30, summarizes the committee’s structure and responsibilities, reports issued thus far, work with the inspector general community and progress of meeting its goals of “ensuring effective and efficient operations, conducting objective and independent oversight, detect[ing] fraud, waste and abuse, and promoting transparency.”

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration issued a list of medicines, medical countermeasures and critical inputs that are needed to have ready at all times, as required by an executive order over the summer that directs federal agencies to purchase “essential” drugs from American manufacturers, so the country can reduce its reliance on foreign countries. “The goal of this work is to ensure the American public is protected against outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, as well as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. “To accomplish this goal, the executive order seeks to ensure sufficient and reliable, long-term domestic production of these products, and to minimize potential shortages by reducing our dependence on foreign manufacturers of these products.” 

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee introduced “target” coronavirus legislation on Friday, which would provide funding for frontline health care workers, testing, contact tracing, vaccine development and distribution, and the strategic national stockpile, among other things. “This bill demonstrates that not only do House Republicans believe we need to continue combating this pandemic, we know we must be prepared to meet and defeat future outbreaks,” said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. 

The Treasury IG said that administering a future relief package (while balancing several other ongoing challenges) is a top management challenge the department could face in fiscal 2021. In a report, published on Thursday, the IG also stated that transferring the Secret Service from the Homeland Security Department back to Treasury, as President Trump sought to do in his fiscal 2021 budget, will be a “critical and complex undertaking,” especially if it happens during the ongoing pandemic. 

Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House coronavirus task force, has been absent for more than a month from the standing call with all 50 governors he established in March. Meanwhile, Pence has been championing the government’s response to the coronavirus on the campaign trail while the pandemic keeps worsening, Politico reported on Thursday. 

Despite promising “aggressive enforcement,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has cleared about 8 in 10 nursing homes (where coronavirus infections were particularly severe) of infection-control violations, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. “Those cleared included homes with mounting coronavirus outbreaks before or during the inspections, as well as those that saw cases and deaths spiral upward after inspectors reported no violations had been found, in some cases multiple times,” said the report. “All told, homes that received a clean bill of health earlier this year had about 290,000 coronavirus cases and 43,000 deaths among residents and staff, state and federal data shows.”

The National Indian Health Board said on Thursday it’s working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide tribal leaders with health care training and technical assistance. This is part of the agency’s $180 million program to help frontline health workers. “The [NIHB] is an organization that focuses greatly on Tribal public health and its infrastructures within the Indian health system,” said NIHB CEO Stacy Bohlen. “In the world of COVID-19 that we’re living in now, we’re seeing the extreme gaps in health care access and delivery, but we also need to focus on the people who are making it all happen–the health care workers–they need and deserve every support.”

The Defense Department is seeking public comment on a new interim final rule that allows TRICARE to cover the costs of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease-sponsored coronavirus-related clinical trials for eligible participants. “This change expands the therapies available to TRICARE beneficiaries in settings that ensure informed consent of the beneficiary, and where the benefits of treatment outweigh the potential risks,” said a notice published in the Federal Register on Friday. “Participation in clinical trials may provide beneficiaries with benefits such as reduced hospitalizations and/or use of a mechanical ventilator.” The interim rule will be in effect until the president’s national emergency for the coronavirus ends. 

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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