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Coronavirus Roundup: Vaccines Are Being Offered to Afghanistan Evacuees; New HHS Office Launches

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

The Health and Human Services Department announced on Monday morning it officially established the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, which Biden directed in an executive order in January.

“While we cannot for a moment take our eyes off the COVID-19 response, we have seen, as you pointed out, how extreme weather stoked by climate change has added to the health threats of COVID-19. It even shut down testing and vaccination sites,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, HHS assistant secretary for health, during a briefing on Monday. Many of the people impacted by climate change “are also burdened by health disparities in general and health disparities associated with COVID-19.”

Dr. John Balbus, most recently a senior adviser at the National Institutes of Health, will serve as interim director of the new office. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

During a virtual briefing on Saturday, President Biden thanked Federal Emergency Management Agency employees for their work responding to Hurricane Ida and natural disasters this year on top of the pandemic. “We’ve deployed 500 FEMA emergency response personnel in Texas and Louisiana, in addition to 2,000 FEMA personnel already supporting our COVID response in the region,” said the president. “And we’ve pre-positioned food, water, generators, and other supplies in the area. Power restoration and mobile communication support teams are also en route.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the timeline is “flexible” for vaccinated individuals receiving booster shots. “We're still planning on eight months...but we are open to data as they come in,” he said. “This will have to go through the [Food and Drug Administration] process and then the advisory committee on immunization practices that advises the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. So, right now, we're sticking with eight, but we're totally open to any variation in that based on the data.” 

The union that represents passport employees is asking the State Department to grant employees more flexibility with coronavirus-related administrative leave due to several recent outbreaks at passport agencies, Federal News Network reported.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during the briefing on Friday that evacuees from Afghanistan are being offered vaccines at the Dulles Airport upon arrival in the United States. “Everyone is tested upon arrival, and steps are taken if individuals test positive to quarantine them,” she added. “Obviously, American citizens are asked to quarantine, and like any other American citizens, that would be something they would do on their own.” She did not have the positivity rate for evacuees, but said she’ll see if the Homeland Security Department does. 

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified summary of the coronavirus origins report on Friday. The report was the result of the 90-day review Biden ordered. The intelligence community determined that the virus that causes the coronavirus probably emerged and infected some individuals no later than November 2019 and the first known cases arose in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Intelligence officials also agreed the virus was not developed as a biological weapon. “After examining all available intelligence reporting and other information, though, the [intelligence community] remains divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19,” the report said. “All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.” 

More states are going forth with vaccine passports despite guidance from the Biden administration, Politico reported on Sunday. “The Biden administration in the spring said it would work with private industry on nationwide passport standards while making clear the government wouldn’t issue the credentials or store the data. Since then, federal officials have been publicly quiet on the matter, other than exploring how the digital certificates could enable international travel,” said the report. “The transportation industry is pressing the administration to move, citing a proliferation of fake vaccination cards that are available online that could make it difficult to verify if travelers have actually been vaccinated.” The White House and the Health and Human Service Department’s health IT office declined to comment to Politico for the article.

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 2 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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