Coronavirus Roundup: Biden Asks Intelligence Community to ‘Redouble’ Investigations into COVID-19’s Origins
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
President Biden said in a statement on Tuesday he asked members of the intelligence community to “redouble” their work to determine the origins of the novel coronavirus and asked for a report within 90 days. He received a report earlier this month that he asked for after he became president. “As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has ‘coalesced around two likely scenarios’ [for the virus’ origins] but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question,” Biden said.
This comes after The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday about previously undisclosed intelligence information that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology got sick enough to be hospitalized in November 2019, which has renewed questions about the virus’ timeline and origins. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
The Government Accountability Office published on Wednesday its priority open recommendations for the Health and Human Services Department. The COVID-19 response and preparedness for other public health emergencies is one of the nine areas, which has 17 open recommendations.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced criminal charges against 14 defendants (11 newly-charged defendants and three who were charged in superseding indictments) in seven districts for their alleged participation in schemes to exploit the pandemic, which resulted in over $143 million in false billings. Defendants included corporate executives and medical professionals. “Additionally, the Center for Program Integrity, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services separately announced today that it took adverse administrative actions against over 50 medical providers for their involvement in health care fraud schemes relating to COVID-19 or abuse of CMS programs that were designed to encourage access to medical care during the pandemic,” said the Justice Department.
The enforcement actions were carried out and assisted by various divisions of the Justice Department and U.S. attorneys’ offices, the FBI, the HHS inspector general, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the Veterans Affairs IG, the Defense Department IG, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Louisiana Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, and other federal and state law enforcement agencies.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on Wednesday it has partnered with the Disney Institute for a training program for FEMA and other federal employees who are working at community vaccination centers. “Disney is honored to collaborate with FEMA by sharing best practices of our legendary guest service with those working at federal vaccination sites nationwide,” said George Kalogridis, president of segment development and enrichment for Disney parks, experiences and products, in a press release.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended the Biden administration’s continuation of the Trump-era immigration policy to limit the spread of the coronavirus during a hearing on Wednesday, The Hill reported. “We are watching the science, led by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and we will no longer rely upon Title 42 [to turn away adult migrants and asylum-seekers] when there is no longer a public health imperative basis,” he said. “We will not restrict travel one day more than the public health imperative requires. That is the assurance I can give.” The Hill reported earlier this week on two DHS whistleblowers who are urging the administration to stop the policy now, arguing it is leading to the increase of minors in federal custody.
The Smithsonian Institution is set to reopen all of its museums this summer. For those not already reopened, this will happen between June 10 and August 27.
On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization to a monoclonal antibody therapy for mild to moderate coronavirus cases. Companies GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology developed the treatment.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission inspector general published on Thursday the results of its return to work survey. “Employees overwhelmingly indicated that they intend to get the vaccine when they have the opportunity,” said the report. The most requested items from staff were: better ventilation, specific standards for return to worksites, policies for COVID-19 exposure notifications and reporting workplace safety concerns and disinfection of workplace surfaces. “Interestingly, we note that staff who have returned to their [regular duty stations] on a more regular basis appear to be more comfortable with the idea of returning to work than those who have not returned,” said the report. “This suggests that as staff gain experience at their regular worksites they may become more comfortable.”
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