Andrew Harnik / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: White House Unveils Additional Measures to Fight the Delta Variant

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

In addition to issuing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors on Thursday, President Biden announced other sweeping measures to combat the Delta variant and boost vaccinations. These included: 

  • The Labor Department is developing an emergency rule that will require employers with 100 or more employees to ensure workers either get vaccinated or show a negative coronavirus test at least once a week.
  • Teachers and staff at the Head Start and Early Head Start programs, Defense Department child and youth programs, and Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools will be required to get vaccinated.
  • The Defense Department is doubling the number of military health teams deployed to help hospitals around the nation.
  • The Transportation Security Administration will double the fines imposed on travelers who refuse to wear masks.

“The path ahead, even with the Delta variant, is not nearly as bad as last winter,” Biden said. “But what makes it incredibly more frustrating is that we have the tools to combat COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans—supported by a distinct minority of elected officials—are keeping us from turning the corner. We cannot allow these actions to stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new partnership on Wednesday to recruit and train the next generation of public health leaders. “The program, which is supported by a $400 million investment from the American Rescue Plan Act, is anticipated to fund up to 5,000 AmeriCorps positions over the next five years and comes as part of a larger $7 billion investment in the public health workforce announced by the Biden-Harris administration,” said a press release from the CDC. “AmeriCorps released the notice of federal funding availability for Public Health AmeriCorps through AmeriCorps’ State and National program. The competition is open to nonprofit, faith-based and community-based organizations; higher-education institutions; state, local and territorial government entities, such as cities or counties; and Indian Tribes. New organizations are encouraged to apply for these grants.” Applicants have 60 days to apply. 

Results of the National Institutes of Health studies on mixing vaccine doses for booster shots are expected to start coming out later this month, with the final results arriving in late October, The Washington Post reported. “The impact of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as a booster will be the focus of the last three studies underway at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,” said the report. “That means consumers already inoculated with the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t have information on using Pfizer’s version as a booster until late next month.”

Top Food and Drug Administration officials released a statement on Friday morning to provide more “clarity” on the process to review and approve vaccines for children under 12 years old. “Conducting clinical trials to determine an appropriate vaccine dose in children requires additional work over that done in the adult studies,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Research and Evaluation. “Our multi-disciplinary teams of doctors, scientists, statisticians and other experts will thoroughly assess this complex data in making any determination about COVID-19 vaccines in young children. We may also consult with our Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on any questions that warrant a public discussion by external experts.”

The Government Accountability Office published a report on Wednesday about the Agriculture Department’s pandemic food assistance program, of which there have been five rounds from May 2020 to May 2021. All rounds started under the Trump administration. “Our analysis of USDA data suggests that USDA broadly met its key goal of providing food to those in need,” GAO said. “However, USDA did not collect data on two of the three key goals of the program, specifically, on supporting producers and job retention, which limited the department’s ability to assess the achievement of these goals.” USDA officials told GAO they didn’t have time to collect and analyze the data, but acknowledged that the need to do so was a “key lesson learned from the program.” 

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 1 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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