Coronavirus Roundup: Vice Presidential Candidates Debate Pandemic; Thousands Could Have Been Infected from White House Outbreak
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Democratic vice presidential nominee, clashed over the federal government’s handling of the pandemic during the debate on Wednesday night.
“On January 28th, the vice president and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic. They were informed that it’s lethal in consequence,” Harris said. “In spite of all of that, today, they still don’t have a plan...Well, Joe Biden does. And our plan is about what we need to do around a national strategy for contact tracing, for testing, for administration of the vaccine, and making sure that it will be free for all.”
In response, Pence said, “I want the American people to know that from the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of America first” and that he “saved hundreds of thousands of American lives” due to the China travel ban. “That decision alone by President Trump bought us invaluable time to stand up the greatest national mobilization since World War II, ” Pence said. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
White House officials “quietly” told a veterans group they might have been exposed to the coronavirus at an event at the White House on September 27, which was the day after the Supreme Court nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett that seems to be the source of the coronavirus outbreak at the White House, The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday. “The communication breakdown during this is even worse than usual,” a Republican close to the White House told The Daily Beast. “Different departments and offices are not talking or communicating appropriately, people are doing different things, and officials are having trouble getting on the same page. The East Wing and the West Wing are dealing with this totally differently. It’s just a mess.”
White House Security Office Head Crede Bailey, a career official, is severely ill with coronavirus and has been hospitalized since September, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday. Bailey got sick before the September 26 event at the White House to honor Judge Amy Coney Barrett, which the White House didn’t publicly disclose.
Thirty-four individuals close to the White House have been infected by the coronavirus, which is more than previously known, according to an internal Federal Emergency Management Agency memo obtained by ABC News. The memo was dated October 7.
Thousands of individuals across the country could have been infected from the White House’s coronavirus outbreak, according to an investigation by USA Today. “At least 6,000 people attended meetings, rallies and other gatherings with them within a week of the Supreme Court nomination ceremony Sept. 26 in the White House Rose Garden, pegged as a potential ‘superspreader’ event,” said the report. “More than 120 people came dangerously close to Trump and the others during that week...They traveled, shook hands or mingled in tight, enclosed spaces with those who later tested positive for COVID-19. Dozens of others had physical contact or spent long periods talking in closed spaces with Trump and his aides.”
Regeneron, a biotechnology company, applied for emergency use authorization for its antibody cocktail that Trump claimed in a video posted on Twitter is a “cure” for coronavirus, The New York Times reported on Thursday. “In a press release, the company has said the cocktail lowered virus levels particularly in people who had not made their own antibodies, but the company has not yet released detailed data to back up its claim,” said the report. “Clinical trials are not yet complete.”
The Food and Drug Administration is no longer going to review lab-developed coronavirus tests after the Health and Human Services Department took away its authority to mandate a pre-market review, Politico reported on Thursday. “Instead, the FDA is shifting its attention to other diagnostics like point-of-care and home collection tests that have a better shot at improving testing availability,” according to the report.
On Wednesday, the FDA sent a warning letter to the nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute about its N95 mask decontamination system for not complying with the regulatory requirements from the emergency use authorization. The president championed this system back in March, Politico noted.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said on MSNBC on Thursday that career FDA officials are not involved in a “political hit job,” as the president suggested the other day. “They are devoted to science, to the public health and the decisions they make,” he said. “I have confidence in them...They are very good people."
FEMA said on Wednesday it would have a virtual meeting on October 13 to discuss implementation of a voluntary agreement under the 1950 Defense Production Act to manufacture and distribute health care resources needed to respond to a pandemic. Part of the meeting will be open to the public. “This agreement is intended to foster a close working relationship among FEMA, HHS, and the [outside] participants to address national defense needs through cooperative action under the direction and supervision of FEMA,” said a notice in the Federal Register. It “affords participants a safe harbor to exchange information, collaborate and adjust commercial operations as to particular products and services, when FEMA determines it necessary for the national defense, and only to the extent necessary for the national defense.”
As Trump has been rallying against vote by mail during the pandemic, the Justice Department reduced constraints for prosecutors to pursue election-related investigations in the lead up to November 3, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. “A Justice Department lawyer in Washington said in a memo to prosecutors on Friday that they could investigate suspicions of election fraud before votes are tabulated,” said the report. “That reversed a decades-long policy that largely forbade aggressively conducting such inquiries during campaigns to keep their existence from becoming public and possibly ‘chilling legitimate voting and campaign activities’ or ‘interjecting the investigation itself as an issue’ for voters.” The department said this was neither a political move nor directed by a political appointee.
House Democrats are going to introduce a bill to block funds for the Health and Human Services Department’s public relations campaign to “inspire hope” about the pandemic, Politico reported earlier this week. “The Defeat Pandemic Propaganda Act” would “bar HHS from using taxpayer funds on an ad campaign to ‘positively influence public perception regarding the COVID–19 pandemic,’ specifically distort any facts or encourage risky behaviors amid the outbreak,” said the report.
The Internal Revenue Service extended the deadline for the 9 million individuals who could be eligible for their stimulus payments, but haven’t received them yet because they don’t normally file tax returns until September 21. "We took this step to provide more time for those who have not yet received a payment to register to get their money, including those in low-income and underserved communities," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “The non-filers portal has been available since the spring and has been used successfully by many millions of Americans.”
Teleworking during the pandemic has led to figuring out how to improve retention among federal employees with disabilities, according to agency officials and lawmakers. “COVID is a bad thing, but as an eternal optimist, I’ll also say we need to look at the bright side and see how it’s changed the workforce and how that is going to further open the door of opportunity for people with disabilities — either them working from home or allowing for adaptive, creative work schedules,” said Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., co-chairman of the Bipartisan Disability Caucus at an event earlier this week, Federal News Network reported.
The watchdog group the Project on Government Oversight released a report on Thursday about the Justice Department’s prosecutions of 82 individuals in 56 fraud cases regarding the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program during its first six months. “The charged individuals sought a total of around $250 million in loans, though in some cases they either did not obtain loans or did not obtain the full amount they sought,” said the report. “Slightly less than half of that amount—$113 million—was successfully obtained by the individuals accused of fraud. In other words, lenders and the Small Business Administration did not stop the alleged fraud in these instances.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about the coronavirus outbreak at the White House and the need for workplace safety measures at the White House.
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