Michel Euler / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Possible Identity Theft in Small Business Relief Program; Biden COVID Equity Task Force to Take Up Discrimination and Xenophobia

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

On Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech submitted a biologics license application to the Food and Drug Administration for their vaccine for individuals 16 and older, which is part of the process for seeking full approval. “Following the successful delivery of more than 170 million doses to the U.S. population in just a few months, the BLA submission is an important cornerstone of achieving long-term herd immunity and containing COVID-19 in the future,” said Dr. Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, in a statement. “We are pleased to work with U.S. regulators to seek approval of our COVID-19 vaccine based on our pivotal phase 3 trial and follow-up data.”

In April, the companies submitted an application to expand the emergency use authorization for individuals 12 to 15 years of age and the approval is expected soon. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee on immunization practices is poised to vote on the recommendation for 12-15 year olds to get the Pfizer vaccine during its May 12 meeting, according to the recently published draft agenda

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued an interim report on Thursday about how the Internal Revenue Service has managed the tax-filing season, the second amid the pandemic. “The IRS continues to be faced with significant challenges in hiring staff as well as in managing its workload as the number of employees reporting for work fluctuates from day to day as a result of the ongoing pandemic,” said the report. “In our discussions with IRS management, they indicated that the backlog work from calendar year 2020 is being balanced with the tax returns currently being filed for tax year 2020.”

The Small Business Administration IG published a report on Thursday about possible identity theft in the economic injury disaster loan program. “As of January 2021, an SBA official estimated the agency has received over 150,000 returned loan statements because of incorrect or fraudulent addresses, raising the possibility that more cases of identity theft are going unreported,” the report said. The IG recommended that SBA develop processes to track identity theft complaints, provide updates to complainants and ensure they’re not given fraudulent bills or delinquency collections, remove frequent loans from its records and resolve any issues regarding the over 150,000 returned bill statements. SBA did not say specifically if it agreed with the recommendations, but gave extensive comments on them. 

The FDA released a report on Wednesday about its inspections of food, drugs, medical devices and other biological products during the pandemic. “In the spirit of transparency, we are releasing this...report detailing not only the effect of the pandemic on our inspectional activities for each regulated commodity in FDA’s portfolio, but also our detailed plan for a more consistent state of operations and our priorities going forward,” wrote acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock. “The numbers reveal the state of our inspectional oversight and how we plan to address postponed inspectional work using a risk-based approach.” 

The Government Accountability Office added a new restricted report on Wednesday titled, “COVID-19: Federal Air Marshal Service Should Document Its Response to Cases and Facilitate Access to Testing.” These types of reports can’t be publicly released due to classified or sensitive information. 

The White House is taking a slow and cautious approach to resuming normal operations, as officials know they are under strict scrutiny, Politico reported on Thursday. Employees can get vaccines through the White House medical unit and they are allowed to take time off to get their shots. “The White House would not say what percentage of its staff has been vaccinated,” said the report. “When asked if vaccination was required to work in person, an official said only that it was encouraged, offered to all staff, and provided by the White House.”

The Defense Department had lifted coronavirus travel restrictions at 83% of military installations as of May 5, which is the closest sense of normalcy since the beginning of the pandemic, Federal News Network reported

The Biden administration’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force will have a meeting on May 28 to discuss interim recommendations to combat discrimination and xenophobia, per a notice published in the Federal Register on Thursday. 

The top CDC official who was the first U.S. official to warn about the coronavirus last year and was met with resistance from Trump officials, is resigning as of May 14, The Washington Post reported on Friday. “My family and I have determined that now is the best time for me to transition to a new phase of my career,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, wrote in an email reviewed by The Post. “CDC has provided me many meaningful, rewarding, and challenging opportunities to grow intellectually and mature as a public health leader.” 

Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M., introduced legislation on Thursday that would establish a grants programs, run by the Labor Department, to hire unemployed and underemployed journalists and writers, many of whom have been impacted by the pandemic and recession. “This program will revive the Federal Writers’ Project of the New Deal Era... Many writers were laid off or had their work reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lieu said. “Additionally, many young people have graduated into an economy that has not been able to provide opportunities to leverage their skill sets.” The Los Angeles Times looked at how the idea came to fruition over the last year. 

ABC News published a deep dive on Friday into the process for former President Trump’s name to appear on the initial coronavirus stimulus checks, which was a subject of controversy. “Internal emails obtained by ABC News give an inside look at the scramble to add Trump's name just days before payments started going out in the middle of a presidential election year,” said the report. “The documents provide a glimpse behind the scenes as the Trump administration sought to take credit for the payments. And for the first time, the government has released images showing versions of the checks that did not make the final cut—including those with then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's name alongside Trump’s.” 

While in Kiev, Ukraine, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken gave virtual remarks to the staff at the American embassy on Thursday in which he acknowledged the hardships they faced during the pandemic. “I am told that quite a number of you actually got sick, some of you lost loved ones, we lost a locally employed staff member,” he said. “And even for those who weren’t directly affected by the illness itself, we know that what it’s done to our work lives and the challenges it’s placed on getting the job done have been almost unprecedented.”

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will give a briefing at 12:30 p.m. 

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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