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Coronavirus Roundup: Booster Shots Coming; State Outlines Certification Process for Employees

Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

Federal public health officials on Wednesday announced their plans for vaccine booster shots, pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration. For recipients of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, “we are prepared to offer booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20 and starting 8 months after an individual’s second dose,” said the statement. Those who were fully vaccinated earliest will likely be eligible first. 

“We also anticipate booster shots will likely be needed for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” said the officials. “Administration of the J&J vaccine did not begin in the U.S. until March 2021, and we expect more data on J&J in the next few weeks.” 

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 will meet on August 24 to discuss booster shots, according to a notice published in the Federal Register. In order to formally vote on any recommendations about booster shots, the vaccine would need full FDA approval. 

President Biden on Wednesday afternoon announced long-term care workers who serve Medicare and Medicaid enrollees will be required to get vaccinated. The Health and Human Services Department will develop regulations to establish this. “Some states have already taken similar steps to protect nursing home residents, and this action will ensure consistent and equitable standards across the country,” said a White House press release. “These new regulations would apply to over 15,000 nursing home facilities, which employ approximately 1.3 million workers and serve approximately 1.6 million nursing home residents.”

Biden also announced he will be issuing a memo to direct the Education Department to use all means necessary to safely reopen schools this fall. This involves the Education Secretary “using all of his oversight authorities and legal actions, if appropriate, against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local school officials and educators,” said Biden during his remarks. He also noted that his administration extended the timeline for the 100% federal reimbursement for states’ emergency response costs as well as mobilizations of the National Guard to support coronavirus relief efforts. 

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday about how data problems at the CDC hindered the federal government’s response to the Delta variant. “The CDC’s fumbles on the delta variant, following a year when its missteps were often attributed to Trump administration meddling, tell a more complicated story,” said the report. “Critics lament that the most up-to-date data about the delta variant has come from other countries … And they say the CDC’s inability to share real-time information led top administration officials, including the president himself, to offer overly rosy assessments of the vaccines’ effectiveness against delta that may have lulled Americans into a false sense of security.” 

The State Department sent an email, obtained by Government Executive, to staff on August 16 outlining the vaccine certification process. “Domestic employees, including personal services contractors, are required to submit the attestation form by August 17,” said the email. “The department is working through the logistics of attestation and testing requirements overseas, as well as local labor law considerations. The attestation process will be rolled out overseas in the near future, in the meantime, current guidance remains in effect.” 

The email also says the department is monitoring closely how the Delta variant will affect return to the workplace. “In the meantime, we are moving forward with the Mobility Assessment Tool so that domestically-based employees will have a better idea of what an eventual return could look like for their position,” said the email. “As of this week, all bureaus will have access to the tool and will be in touch with their respective managers about completing the MAT for each domestic position under their supervision.” For employees overseas, “we are finalizing the overseas telework toolkit to aid posts in establishing their formal situational telework policy.” In the meantime, the department encouraged maximized flexibilities. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on the email. 

The Government Accountability Office published a WatchBlog post on Thursday about how federal agencies are monitoring employees' time and attendance in virtual and in-person work settings, based on its previous reviews. The watchdog said it has more ongoing work about the extent to which agencies used telework during the pandemic and the challenges associated with it. 

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, within the National Institutes of Health, updated its use of a data tool that tracks employee engagement in order to accommodate coronavirus-related matters, Federal News Network reported. “The tool, known as the Employee Viewpoint Survey Analysis and Results Tool, or EVS ART, helps agency leaders quickly sift through the mountain of annual FEVS data from the Office of Personnel Management and clearly pinpoint bright spots and weak points,” said the report. “[The Institute] has since changed the tool to account for new COVID-19 and telework questions on the 2020 survey, and the institute worked with OPM to launch a supplemental survey last year, which solicited feedback from trainees, fellows, Pathways students and others.” 

In an interview with CNET published on Thursday, Celeste Drake, director of the Made in America Office, within the Office of Management and Budget, spoke about the office’s priorities and how they relate to the pandemic. She said Biden is working with Congress to improve the supply chain, so the country is better equipped for future outbreaks and pandemics. Also, “there is a COVID task force that is looking for these important needs. You mentioned ventilators—it's also medicines, vaccines, personal protective equipment,” said Drake. “We are going to be ready because we're already continuing to experience these needs with COVID-19 right now, it's a long-term agenda. But there are also short-term gains, and we are making a difference.”

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.