Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Sept. 23 Senate hearing on the federal government's response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Sept. 23 Senate hearing on the federal government's response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Trump Suggests Firing Fauci, New Executive Order Could Allow It

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

During President Trump’s campaign rally in Opa-locka, Florida, on Sunday night a “Fire Fauci” chant broke out. “Don't tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” Trump said in response. Under his current arrangement, the president cannot directly fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a career civil servant, without cause, as Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, told CNN over the summer. “There are civil service protections for career federal employees that prevent them from being removed or demoted for political reasons,” Stier said.

However, Trump issued an executive order on October 21 that created a new “Schedule F” for “policy making” federal employees. Those moved to the new schedule would lose their civil service protections and effectively become at-will employees. Federal agencies have significant discretion in determining which employees should be moved into Schedule F. Here are some of the other recent headlines from over the weekend and today that you might have missed. 

Fauci told The Washington Post late on Friday, "We’re in for a whole lot of hurt” and the country is “poorly” prepared to handle the pandemic during the winter. He also said former Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic presidential nominee, “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective.” Trump is “looking at it from a different perspective,” Fauci said, which is “the economy and reopening the country.”

The White House blasted Fauci’s remarks, saying they were “unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Dr. Fauci, a senior member of the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce and someone who has praised President Trump’s actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics,” NBC News reported on Saturday. 

If Trump wins reelection, the White House is planning a major personnel overhaul, which includes top health officials, Politico reported on Saturday. “Inside the White House, there is a debate over whether it is prudent to make changes to the health care team in the middle of a once-in-a-century global pandemic,” said the report. “Yet aides also have repeatedly criticized or clashed with officials at the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], [Health and Human Services Department] and Food and Drug Administration during the more than seven months of life under COVID-19. In particular, aides and allies around the president are unsure about [HHS Secretary Alex] Azar’s fate, as they have been many times over the last several months.” 

The Defense Department and HHS announced $119 million and $12.7 million contracts to two medical technology companies on Friday and Saturday, respectively, to boost production of coronavirus tests. 

HHS stated on Friday that it has distributed 389,040 rapid coronavirus tests so far to 83 Historically Black Colleges and Universities at no cost, as part of the administration’s goal to prevent outbreaks among high-risk communities. 

Eight Republican senators wrote to HHS on Friday asking for clarification about its guidance on free coronavirus testing for all. “We applaud the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to ensure that any American who needs a test can quickly get one – at no cost,” they wrote. “Unfortunately...changes made in a recent tri-agency guidance published on June 23, 2020, have created some confusion regarding coverage requirements for COVID-19 testing.” Therefore, they asked the department to update the guidance to “to clarify that individuals who need a test can receive one without cost-sharing, medical management, or prior authorization, and regardless of whether the individual is symptomatic.”

The National Institutes of Health’s committee on coronavirus research scientific review will meet on December 2 to “review and evaluate grant applications,” according to a notice in the Federal Register on Monday. 

The White House “sidestepped” the Food and Drug Administration in distributing the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine (unproven to treat the coronavirus) when it briefly had FDA emergency use approval, according to an investigation by The Washington Post published on Saturday. “The Post review found that the process was marked by haphazard planning, little or no communication to local authorities about the flow of pills into their communities, and a lack of public accounting about where they ended up,” said the article. 

Trump invited 400 people for an election night indoor party in the East Room. Initially the party was going to be at the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., but city coronavirus guidelines only allow gatherings of up to 50 individuals, The New York Times reported on Sunday. 

On Friday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued two new coronavirus-related citations for a beef plant in Cactus, Texas, which is owned by the large meat company JBS. Each fine was $1,928 and they were for violating record-keeping regulations, HuffPost reported. OSHA outlined the citations it has issued during the pandemic, following criticism that it is not taking enough action to protect workers. 

Also, on Friday, OSHA issued guidance on the use of respiratory protections for those working in assisted living and long-term care facilities during the pandemic, which it says is “consistent with good industrial hygiene practice and with OSHA’s traditional adherence to a ‘hierarchy of controls.’” 

On Friday, the CDC lifted its “no sail” policy (issued in March) for cruise ships and outlined a phased approach to resuming full operations. “The initial phases will consist of testing and additional safeguards for crew members,” said the guidance. “Subsequent phases will include simulated voyages to test cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, certification for ships that meet specific requirements and a phased return to cruise ship passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk.” 

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode features Theodore Roosevelt Government Leadership Award winners Dr. Priscilla Clark and Carl Sciacchitano talking about their work on “ReImagine HHS,” an innovative management initiative. 

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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