Mel Evans / AP file photo

Coronavirus Roundup: Possible Challenges to OSHA Vaccine Enforcement; FDA to Review Application for COVID Pill 

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

The Health and Human Services Department recently launched a Spanish version of its QuestionBuilder app, which helps individuals prepare for in-person or telehealth appointments. This “is being released during Hispanic Heritage Month and Health Literacy Month to improve health care access and equity for Latinos” who have “among the highest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group within the United States,” said HHS in a statement on October 8. The new app also provides “links to helpful resources, including to the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Spanish from HHS and where to find the nearest vaccination site.” 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 October 20 and 21 to discuss booster shots for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. It will also meet on November 2 and 3 to discuss COVID-19 vaccines for kids, Politico reported

There are various possible challenges for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as it enforces the forthcoming rule that would require organizations with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing, NBC News reported on Monday. It “has already drawn threats of lawsuits from two dozen Republican attorneys general and prompted some people to vow to quit their jobs,” said the report. “But a greater challenge for the administration could lie within the agency tasked with ensuring compliance.” In early 2020, the agency only had about 862 inspectors and “that number has trended downward over the last several years,” the report continued. “This year, despite new hires, the agency lost another 65 inspectors, according to data obtained from OSHA.”

Southwest airlines canceled hundreds of flights on Monday, following mass disruptions over the weekend, which came after the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association asked a federal court on Friday to block the airline’s vaccine mandate. However, the Federal Aviation Administration tweeted on Tuesday night, “To be clear: None of the information from Southwest, its pilots union, or the FAA indicates that this weekend’s cancellations were related to vaccine mandates.” The airline “blamed [it] on bad weather and air traffic control issues,” The Associated Press reported

Merck announced on Monday it submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for its coronavirus oral medication that is working on with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. “The extraordinary impact of this pandemic demands that we move with unprecedented urgency, and that is what our teams have done by submitting this application for molnupiravir to the FDA within 10 days of receiving the data,” said Robert Davis, CEO and president of Merck. “We look forward to working with the FDA on its review of our application, and to working with other regulatory agencies as we do everything we can to bring molnupiravir to patients around the world as quickly as possible.”

The State Department inspector general is looking into allegations that Trump appointees took gift bags worth thousands of dollars that were supposed to be for foreign leaders at the Group of 7 summit at Camp David in 2020,  which ended up being canceled due to the pandemic, The New York Times reported on Monday. “The bags contained dozens of items purchased with government funds, including leather portfolios, pewter trays and marble trinket boxes emblazoned with the presidential seal or the signatures of Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania Trump,” said the report. 

The Small Business Administration IG recently released a report about SBA’s distribution of Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan grants from the CARES Act. “We found SBA provided $4.5 billion more in emergency [disaster loan] grants to sole proprietors and independent contractors than they were entitled to receive based on established policy,” said the report. “We determined that 542,897 sole proprietors, who received a grant of more than $1,000, applied for the emergency [disaster loan] grants without an [employer identification number] and claimed more than one employee on their COVID-19 [emergency economic disaster loan] applications.” While SBA disagreed with some of the IG findings and policies from the previous administration, it is taking corrective actions to implement the IG’s recommendations. 

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.

Update: This article has been updated to say that Merck is developing its COVID-19 pill with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

NEXT STORY: What Slack Does for Women

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