A member of the cleaning staff sprays the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House on Monday.

A member of the cleaning staff sprays the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House on Monday. Alex Brandon / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: White House Objects to FDA’s Proposed Vaccine Guidelines; EPA Union Members Vote ‘No Confidence’ on Wheeler

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

President Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday evening and upon returning to the White House took off his mask in front of cameras. “Don’t be afraid of COVID,” he tweeted. “Don’t let it dominate your life.” This is despite the fact that over 210,000 individuals in the United States have died from the coronavirus this year, during which it has impacted essentially all aspects of life. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.

The White House blocked the Food and Drug Administration's new proposed guidelines for approving a coronavirus vaccine, The New York Times reported on Monday. “The [FDA] submitted the guidelines to the Office of Management and Budget for approval more than two weeks ago, but they stalled in the office of Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff. Their approval is now seen as highly unlikely,” said the report. “Meadows raised a series of concerns…[such as] the need for two months of follow-up data, said that stricter recommendations would change the rules in the middle of clinical trials and suggested that Dr. Hahn was overly influenced by his agency’s career scientists.”

Politico reported on Monday that the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and later Meadows cited objections from pharmaceutical companies in blocking the proposed requirements. However, it is not clear which companies exactly raised these concerns. “The White House’s references to private-sector pushback have in the meantime puzzled FDA officials, who say the agency itself never came under similar pressure from vaccine developers,” said the report. 

Public health experts said the White House’s reliance on Abbott Labs’ rapid coronavirus test for the ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett could have led to the outbreak, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. There could be false negatives and it is equally important to wear masks and practice social distancing (both of which did not happen for the whole event), they noted. 

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that coronavirus can spread through tiny, air particles, with a new update to its website, The Washington Post reported. Last month, the agency erroneously posted an update (that said it could spread through air transmission) but it had not gone through the proper review process, so it was removed. 

The FDA issued a “rare” emergency use authorization for an artificial intelligence tool to predict which coronavirus patients are at risk for needing to be intubated, Stat News reported on Monday. Dascena, a health care technology company based in Oakland, California, developed the tool. 

An advisory committee for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will hold a meeting on October 15 to discuss and evaluate grant applications related to the coronavirus. The meeting will not be open to the public, according to a notice posted in the Federal Register on Tuesday. 

On Tuesday, the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service published its second annual report with Accenture Federal Services on the government’s customer service, which touched on impacts from the pandemic. “Some agencies are relying more on virtual or, under the new pandemic lexicon, ‘contactless’ services. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Veterans Health Administration prioritized increased access to telehealth services,” said the report. Others, such as the [Internal Revenue Service] and the Office of Federal Student Aid, provided support for people who were struggling financially due to the crisis—delivering millions of economic stimulus payments and helping people understand new options around student loan repayments.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sent letters to Attorney General William Barr and Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal on Monday regarding the spread of coronavirus in BOP’s facilities. “There is mounting evidence that efforts to contain the virus within BOP facilities are failing,” they wrote in one letter about the mass outbreak at BOP’s facilities from March 23 to the present. This is exemplified by failing to release more intimates to home confinement, purchasing of unproven ultraviolet sanitizing portals, long-term staffing shortages and inmate transfers. 

In the second letter, the lawmakers questioned the use of “restricted housing” or “solitary confinement” for inmates who tested positive. This could have a pervasive effect on their mental health, could disincentivize inmates from reporting symptoms if they fear that’s where they’ll be placed, and requires more interactions between staff and inmates for things such as meals and showers, they wrote. As of Tuesday mid-morning, there were 1,568 open cases among inmates and 724 among staff. So far, 13,544 inmates and 1,177 staff have recovered. There have been 125 inmate and two staff deaths.

The American Federation of Government Employees chapter that represents the Environmental Protection Agency hosted a “no confidence” vote for Administrator Andrew Wheeler and other agency leadership for bringing employees back into offices too soon, which puts them at risk for contracting the coronavirus. Six hundred ninety-five of 750 members from various unions that represent EPA employees voted for no confidence (92.7%). Read Government Executive’s previous coverage of the issue here

The Veterans Affairs Department adopted a final rule to allow for 90-day extensions for former service members (insured under Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance) to apply for Veterans' Group Life Insurance, after coronavirus disruptions. The rule, published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, will be in effect for one year. 

Upcoming: Government Executive’s virtual events to honor the 2020 Theodore Roosevelt Leadership Awards and inductees into the second class of the Government Hall of Fame begin on Tuesday and run through October 15. Read more here

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about the confusion and inconsistencies between a court and the Trump administration on the deadline to end the 2020 census count, which has been upended by 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 newstips@govexec.com. 

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