President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn.

President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. Jim Bourg/Pool via AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Trump and Biden Clash Over Pandemic in Last Debate; FDA Approves First Coronavirus Treatment

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

Management of the novel coronavirus pandemic was a main topic during the last presidential debate on Thursday night. 

“This is a worldwide problem, but I’ve been congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we’ve been able to do,” President Trump said. “If you take a look at what we’ve done in terms of goggles and masks and gowns and everything else, and in particular ventilators—we’re now making ventilators all over the world, thousands and thousands a month distributing them all over the world—...We’re rounding the corner.” He also said a vaccine could “be announced within weeks.” However, the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve any. 

Democratic rival former Vice President Joe Biden had a very different take. “220,000 Americans dead...Anyone responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said. “What I would do is make sure we have everyone encouraged to wear a mask all the time. I would make sure we move in the direction of rapid testing, investing in rapid testing. I would make sure that we set up national standards as to how to open up schools and open up businesses so they can be safe and give them the wherewithal, the financial resources to be able to do that.” 

Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.

On Thursday, 141 House and Senate lawmakers wrote to congressional leaders asking them to take action to prepare for the next pandemic, in addition to passing another economic stimulus package. This would include boosting funding for state and local health departments, improving the strategic national stockpile, investing in global public health efforts, creating at least 250,000 new public health jobs and addressing systemic racism in the healthcare system. “The current administration’s response has exposed serious flaws in the country’s ability to combat large scale public health challenges,” they wrote. 

Palantir, a data mining company, is assisting the federal government in setting up a system (called Tiberius) to track the manufacturing, distribution and administration of a coronavirus vaccine, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. “Palantir’s involvement could draw fire from some Democrats and privacy advocates who have previously expressed concerns about the company gaining access to sensitive personal health information,” according to the report. Also, “another Palantir data collection and analysis tool, called HHS Protect, which is similar in scope to Tiberius and used by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to track hospitals’ COVID-19 data, has been criticized by some for its complexity.”

On Thursday, Rep. James Clyburn, chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, pressed HHS once again to provide the information he requested about reports of political interference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a division of HHS. He wrote to the department on September 14 asking for interviews by September 22 and documents by September 28. However, HHS has “used a variety of dilatory tactics to block the select subcommittee’s investigation—not unlike the tactics HHS appointees reportedly used to prevent CDC from publishing truthful information about the coronavirus crisis,” Clyburn wrote

Stat News explored how Biden would potentially manage “Operation Warp Speed” if he is elected. A central question is what he would do about Moncef Slaoui, the head of the initiative. Slaoui is an immunologist and former pharmaceutical executive and Democrats have been lambasting him for months, but public health officials say he has the right experience for the position. 

The FDA announced on Thursday it approved the first coronavirus treatment. It initially gave the antiviral drug Veklury (remdesivir) emergency use authorization in May. 

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee had its first all-day meeting on Thursday. While members (many of whom expressed skepticism about the process) didn’t talk about specific vaccines, they spoke about the standards for approving one, participants in the clinical trials and follow-up reviews, The Washington Post reported

The watchdog group Project on Government Oversight reported earlier this week that some of the members on the advisory board have a history of financial ties to the companies developing the vaccines. “The FDA advisors’ ties to the drug companies have taken a variety of forms, including consulting fees and compensation for travel and lodging,” said the report. “In some cases, companies have paid them directly. In other cases, companies have paid their organizations for medical studies in which they played a principal role, records show.”

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, published a report on Friday about how the administration needs to ensure the vaccine development and distribution process is safe, effective, free from political interference and free of change to Americans. The report condemns the Trump administration for its “failure to establish a comprehensive response that includes a surge in testing, contact tracing and the availability of personal protective equipment” and “continued political interference in what should be a science-based public health response.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development published a temporary rule on Friday to increase the flexibility and speed for procurement of essential medical supplies to address the coronavirus worldwide. “Under the current provision... USAID only has the authority to expand the authorized geographic scope under the waiver provisions,” said the notice in the Federal Register. “The temporary final rule allows USAID to prioritize the purchase of [emergency medical supplies]: from the United States only, from the cooperating/recipient country, from the geographic region to avoid diverting supplies in short supply in the United States, or from a nearby country. It will be in effect until April 30, 2021.

The White House: Council of Economic Advisers outlined on Thursday the Trump administration's vast deregulatory efforts over the last almost four years. “CEA estimates that the total value of more widespread adoption of telemedicine would be approximately $325 billion per year,” said the council in regard to the pandemic. “Reducing FDA approval times by relaxing overly burdensome impediments to drug development would have a net present value of $1.9 trillion if approval times are sped up by one year, $3.9 trillion if sped up by two years, and $5.9 trillion if sped up by three years. Expanding occupational licensing deregulation for nurse practitioners nationwide could result in $62 billion in cost savings for patients annually.”

The Internal Revenue Service announced on Friday that November 10 is “National Economic Impact Payment Registration Day” to encourage those who don’t usually file tax returns to register for their stimulus packages, if they haven’t already done so. November 21 is the deadline to register. 

Despite the fact that a federal judge ruled that prisoners can receive stimulus checks from the CARES Act, many are facing roadblocks in getting them, according to a report co-published by The Marshall Project and NBC News. “Advocates in several states have raised concerns that some prisoners do not have access to the forms they need to apply for the money, and that some officials are not providing information about how to fill them out correctly,” said the report. Authors for a weekly legal newsletter to about 11,000 inmates nationwide said “their suspension last week [is] another sign of the reluctance by some officials to allow the payments.”

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode covers recent service changes at the U.S. Postal Service under new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. 

Help us understand the situation better. Are you a federal employee, contractor or military member with information or concerns about how your agency is handling the coronavirus? Email us at newstips@govexec.com.

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