Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, right, listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference with the coronavirus task force at the White House on Thursday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, right, listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference with the coronavirus task force at the White House on Thursday. Susan Walsh/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Firms to Seek FDA Approval for First Vaccine; Military Cases Hit Record High This Week

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

The White House coronavirus task force held its first press briefing since July on Thursday, during which Vice President Mike Pence said the group does not support another lockdown or closing schools. “Help is on the way,” as there are several promising coronavirus vaccine candidates, he said. Also on Thursday, President-elect Joe Biden said, “I am not going to shut down the economy, period. I'm going to shut down the virus.” There were 182,832 new cases and 1,971 new deaths on Thursday, according to The COVID Tracking Project. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

Three House committees published a report on Friday claiming the Office of Management and Budget withheld funds to the World Health Organization for the pandemic using the “same tactic” it did to illegally withhold funding to Ukraine last year, which was part of what led to the House impeaching President Trump. “In contrast to the Ukraine impoundment, no legislative remedy was necessary in this case to extend the availability of these amounts,” which were expiring at the end of fiscal 2020, the chairs of the House Budget, Appropriations, and Oversight and Reform committees stated. “After the committees pressed OMB to produce documents in response to their request, OMB released the funds to the State Department approximately seven days before the end of the fiscal year and the State Department was able to obligate the withheld funds expeditiously.” After criticizing the WHO for its handling of the pandemic, President Trump formally notified the United Nations in July that the United States would begin the formal withdrawal process, which includes paying outstanding dues, as Government Executive previously reported.

A senior Trump administration official pushed back on the committees’ report. “The administration made crystal clear that we were no longer going to be providing funding for WHO because of their corruption and incompetence in tackling the coronavirus,” the senior administration official told Government Executive, “despite Democrats still wanting to fund this behavior. We provided the committees with these documents to clearly show the legal and routine actions we took to reprogram funds within the ‘Contributions to International Organizations’ account consistent with the law.”

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization for a drug combination to treat the coronavirus. It is for the drug baricitinib to be used with remdesivir (already approved to treat the coronavirus) for hospitalized coronavirus patients who need supplemental oxygen or ventilation. 

Pfizer and BioNTech said on Friday they will submit an application to the FDA for emergency use authorization for their coronavirus vaccine. They will be the first drug makers to do so.   

The Indian Health Service, a division of the Health and Human Services Department, published a plan on Thursday that details how it will distribute a vaccine if and when one is approved to IHS federal facilities, tribal health programs and urban Indian organizations. “The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected American Indian/Alaska Native populations across the country, with infection rates over 3.5 times higher than non-Hispanic whites,” the plan noted. “In addition, AI/AN individuals are over four times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of COVID-19.” 

The military hit a record high for new coronavirus cases (1,314) on Tuesday, CNN reported. There are about 25,000 active coronavirus cases in the military and an additional 44,390 members have recovered. 

The Pentagon announced on Thursday that Retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, who recently assumed the duties of Defense Under Secretary for Policy, tested positive for coronavirus after meeting with the Lithuanian minister of defense last week (who also tested positive). 

The Defense Department issued guidance on minimizing the spread of the coronavirus during the holiday season. It reflects the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Defense Department inspector general identified “strengthening resiliency to non-traditional threats, such as pandemics, as one of Defense’s top management challenges for fiscal 2021, in a report published on Thursday. “During the [COVID-19] pandemic, the DoD was confronted with the task of maintaining unit and individual readiness, while simultaneously assisting the other federal agencies with their responses to COVID‑19 and other events,” said the IG. “DoD leaders must ensure they are taking care of their people to prevent stresses that could lead to suicides or violent behavior without sacrificing readiness.”

A group of 15 bicameral lawmakers wrote to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Justice Department on Thursday to inquire about the changing policies for medical copayments in federal prisons during the pandemic where there have been widespread coronavirus outbreaks. “On March 30, the BOP issued a memorandum waiving the requirement that incarcerated individuals pay ‘copay fee[s] for inmate requested visits to health care providers.’ That waiver expired on October 1, and it is unclear whether that waiver has been extended, given the continued spread of COVID-19 throughout the nation and in federal prisons,” they wrote. “It is also unclear whether the BOP has considered making its copay waiver permanent.” 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Thursday that seven individuals were indicted in a Houston federal court in connection with their alleged involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain about  $16 million in loans from the Small Business Administration's coronavirus relief program. “ICE remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to bring every asset to bear against anyone who seeks to take advantage of the pandemic to deliberately harm and deceive others for their own profit,” said Mark Dawson, special agent in charge at ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in Houston.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., warned in a letter to Trump on Thursday that his firing of top cybersecurity officials will make protecting research on the coronavirus vaccine and health care institutions more difficult. “While I have full confidence in the dedicated workforce at [the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] to continue to execute their mission despite your actions, the removal of these individuals invites attacks from our adversaries based on a perception of instability, rather than prevent them,” the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee wrote. I urge you, again, to send a strong message to any foreign government attempting to hack into our medical institutions that this behavior is unacceptable.” 

Saturday is the deadline to register for stimulus payments for those who didn’t already receive one. See more information from the Internal Revenue Service here.

Andrew Giuliani, special assistant to the president and son of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, tweeted on Friday that he tested positive for coronavirus. At least four other individuals in the White House complex have tested positive in recent days, The New York Times reported

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about previous rocky presidential transitions, as the current one has been impacted by the pandemic and the General Services Administration's delay in giving the green light for Biden’s team to access funding and agency employees and briefing materials.

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