Coronavirus Roundup: Senate Passes COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act; CDC Reassigns Senior Career Official
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
On Thursday evening, the Senate passed the COVID–19 Hate Crimes Act, 94-1, which Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., introduced to address the rise in hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., was the only senator to vote against it.
The bill would require the Justice Department to designate an official to help do an expedited review of coronavirus related hate crimes reported to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and issue guidance to state and local law enforcement agencies on establishing an online reporting process for hate crimes. It would also direct the attorney general and Health and Human Services secretary, along with the COVID–19 Health Equity Task Force and community-based organizations, to issue guidance about raising awareness about the increase of hate crimes during the pandemic. The bill is expected to pass in the House and President Biden said he would sign it. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
The Biden administration’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force will meet on April 30, according to a notice published in the Federal Register on Thursday.
The Justice Department inspector general published the results of a “limited-scope review” on Thursday about how the Executive Office for Immigration Review handled the pandemic. The review office “took some actions to help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 for staff and parties to immigration proceedings, but various factors limited the efficacy of these efforts,” some of which were outside of its control, said the report. Also, “EOIR’s overall communication related to the pandemic was initially sometimes unclear and inconsistent, especially for internal staff.”
The Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department announced on Thursday they are distributing a sixth batch of stimulus payments from the American Rescue Plan. The 2 million payments from this round bring the total distributed thus far to 161 million payments, totaling more than $379 billion.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday that the agency is considering changing its guidance on wearing masks outdoors. Some health experts say it’s reasonable to start lifting restrictions for outdoors, NBC News reported. “However, experts at Northwestern University argue keeping masks on when you're outside — even after you're vaccinated — is not only a ‘social courtesy,’ but also helps ‘model the behavior’ for children, who can't yet get the shot.”
The CDC reassigned Nancy Messonnier, a top respiratory disease scientist who was in the spotlight for her early warnings on the pandemic, from her position on the agency’s vaccine task force to the incident management response team, Politico reported. “Now that vaccines are in use, the vaccine task force duties will be reassigned to Henry Walke, the director of the agency's Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections,” said the report. “Messonnier’s long public silence was supposed to end when President Joe Biden assumed office and strove to put more scientists at the forefront of the pandemic response. But she also had differences with Biden officials, according to a person familiar with the discussion.”
Although she is still the top CDC respiratory disease official, three people familiar with the situation told Politico “she has since taken leave from the CDC, and some of them characterized it as an unplanned vacation.”
The Government Accountability Office issued a report on Thursday about how the National Institutes of Health should take increased actions to prevent foreign influence in its work. “NIH’s policy focuses on financial conflicts of interest, but does not specifically address or define non-financial interests, which may include multiple professional appointments,” said the report. Therefore, “universities that receive federal grant funding may lack sufficient guidance to identify and manage conflicts appropriately, potentially increasing the risk of undue foreign influence.” The report doesn’t mention the pandemic, but the issues identified in the report could have implications for the research NIH is doing on the coronavirus.
Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will give a briefing at 11:30 a.m.
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