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Coronavirus Roundup: Watchdog Encourages Telework Post-Pandemic; Secret Service Helped Recover $2 Billion in COVID-19 Fraud 

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 outlined on Thursday how it’s directing $7 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to hire and train public health workers in response to the pandemic. This includes: helping states and localities boost their staffing, launching a public health AmeriCorps, expanding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s workforce and creating a grants program for under-resourced public health departments. 

The new AmeriCorps is a $400 million investment the CDC and AmeriCorps will run to “build a new workforce ready to respond to the public health needs of the nation,” said the White House. “The program will focus on building a diverse pipeline for the public health workforce and providing direct service to communities across the country.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

Testifying before a Senate subcommittee on Wednesday, Comptroller General Eugene Dodaro said, “Each agency ought to do a reassessment coming out of the pandemic” about their use of remote work. He said he thinks telework is a “way to not only expand the workforce, but to make it more diverse.” While it will need strong management, training and oversight, “it can work and it can work more than it’s been done pre-pandemic.” 

The CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices voted on Wednesday afternoon to recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds. 

The CDC’s coronavirus data tracker now includes vaccination progress by race and ethnicity. According to the most recent data, American Indian and Alaska Natives in the United States are leading with at least one dose and full vaccinations, followed up by non-Hispanic whites. 

When asked during the briefing on Wednesday if the White House has communicated to the CDC that it should loosen more restrictions, after criticisms its recommendations are too cautious, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “No, we have conveyed that we will continue to abide by the health and medical advice of our health and medical experts, many of which—many of whom are working at the CDC.” Also, “we look forward to, as more people are vaccinated, them continuing to update their guidelines for the public.”

Many business lobbying groups are meeting with the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs as it reviews a rule for an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Roll Call reported on Wednesday. Many of these groups say the standard isn’t needed. The Office of Management and Budget “reportedly said it would take two weeks to review the guidance, a concession to business groups concerned about the fact that, unlike most regulations, the emergency temporary standard would not provide the same opportunity for stakeholders to give input,” said the report. “An emergency temporary standard is not subject to the typical public comment period required for more permanent regulations, something employers’ attorneys criticize.” The Labor Department sent a draft of the standard to OMB on April 26.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, issued a statement on Wednesday commemorating the nurses who have died during the pandemic and said the Biden administration “continues to drag its feet” on issuing a work safety standard. “Unfortunately, more than 15 months later, and more than two months after the March 15 deadline set by President Biden, OSHA has yet to issue an emergency temporary standard that remains necessary to protect workers from exposure to the virus,” he said. “The cost of inaction continues to mount for those on the frontlines.” 

Secretary Marty Walsh is the only Senate-confirmed official at the Labor Department so far, which poses challenges as the department looks at charting a course for the post-pandemic workforce, Bloomberg Law reported on Thursday.

Earlier this week, House Democrats asked Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to reverse the Trump administration decision in August 2020 to remove the Food and Drug Administration’s premarket review requirements for COVID-19 laboratory developed tests. “The former FDA commissioner and career scientists at FDA reportedly opposed the move, telling HHS officials that the decision could lead to inaccurate tests flooding the market,” they wrote. “The steps the Trump administration took to address the problems created in the policy decision’s wake—namely asking [the National Cancer Institute] to review tests, and later contracting with NDA Partners to provide review—were woefully inappropriate. Only FDA has the legal responsibility, as well as the experience and expertise, to evaluate the accuracy and reliability of diagnostic tests.” 

When Vice President Kamala Harris was a senator she opposed closures at the U.S.-Mexico border for the pandemic by signing onto a letter with Democratic colleagues saying it violated the law. However, now as vice president she supports the Biden administration’s decision to maintain the closure, Politico reported on Wednesday. “The Department of Health and Human Services renews Title 42 each month, according to the White House official. The CDC is supposed to conduct a monthly review on the policy each month as well, according to an October 2020 CDC order,” said the report. “After Biden came into office, he also called for a review. But it’s not clear whether those are happening. Under the law, tens of thousands of migrants are turned away each month. But the administration is making exceptions for unaccompanied children to stay for humanitarian reasons.” 

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee released a report on Wednesday about its insights on the spread of coronavirus and the response in correctional and detention facilities operated by the Justice, Homeland Security, and Interior departments. The watchdog said there were varied efforts by the agencies to reduce the populations in custody, the pandemic “exacerbated” long-term staffing issues, transportation of inmates and detainees was risky, and the guidance and oversight efforts varied by facility. 

One Voice United, a national organization advocating for correctional officers and staff, will hold a virtual vigil on Friday night to honor the correctional officers, supervisors, and other employees who have died of coronavirus. Shane Fausey, president of the Council of Prison Locals, a division of the American Federation of Government Employees, will participate in the reading of the names. 

The Secret Service announced on Wednesday that since the pandemic started it has seized over $640 million in fraudulently obtained funds and helped return about $2 billion to state unemployment insurance programs. The agency has also initiated over 690 unemployment insurance fraud investigations and inquiries and 720 economic injury disaster loan and paycheck protection program fraud investigations and inquiries. 

Upcoming: The White House COVID-19 Response Team and public health officials will give a briefing at 2 p.m. 

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