Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is the only Democrat in both the House and Senate to support a resolution undoing the OSHA vaccine rule for private businesses.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is the only Democrat in both the House and Senate to support a resolution undoing the OSHA vaccine rule for private businesses. Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Manchin Backs Measure to Undo OSHA Vaccine Rule

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

The Transportation Security Administration is extending the requirement to wear masks on planes, trains and public transportation through March 18. That is one of the many actions the Biden administration unveiled on Thursday to combat the pandemic this winter. “Fines will continue to be doubled from their initial levels for noncompliance with the masking requirements – with a minimum fine of $500 and fines of up to $3,000 for repeat offenders,” said an announcement from the White House. 

Biden also announced on Thursday that all inbound international travelers must get tested for COVID-19 within one day of their departure, strengthening the current policy. “This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the Omicron variant,” said the president. This requirement will begin on December 6, The Wall Street Journal reported

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during the White House briefing on Wednesday the definition of “fully vaccinated” for purposes of the vaccine mandates could change to include booster shots. “We don't know right now whether it should change, but it might,” he said. 

A Food and Drug Administration panel voted on Tuesday 13-10 to endorse Merck’s pill to treat coronavirus patients. This was the first time it has approved such an item. 

A federal court earlier this week expanded the blocking of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for certain health care workers. “Not 24 hours after a Missouri federal court temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate in 10 states, a Louisiana federal court took one giant step further and blocked the rule from taking effect in any healthcare facility across the country not covered by the Missouri decision,” explained members of the law firm Fisher Phillips. “The judge’s 34-page order issued late Tuesday contends that the federal government does not have the authority to implement the vaccine mandate, effectively putting the entire rule on ice for the time being.” 

The Oklahoma attorney general filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in an attempt to exempt the National Guard and federal employees from the vaccine mandate, which is the latest in the clash between the state and Biden administration over the issue. In addition to blocking the mandate, the AG’s office is asking “the court to block the Biden administration from withholding federal funding from the Oklahoma National Guard or its Guard members” and “to declare the mandate unconstitutional on multiple grounds,” said a press release. 

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a statement on Thursday, “I do not support any government vaccine mandate on private businesses.” He also noted he co-sponsored an Occupational Safety and Health Administration resolution to undo the rule using the Congressional Review Act, an effort that regulatory experts have told Government Executive faces tough odds. “I have long said we should incentivize, not penalize, private employers whose responsibility it is to protect their employees from COVID-19,” Manchin said. So far Manchin is the only Democrat in both the House and Senate to support the resolution. While an amendment to the stopgap spending measure that would have halted the vaccine-or-test rule failed, there could be a separate vote on the matter soon. 

Earlier this week, the Small Business Administration’s watchdog issued another warning about fraud in the COVID-19 relief programs. “SBA’s lack of adequate pre-award controls during this period of [March to November 2020] led to 75,180 COVID-19 [economic injury disaster loans] totaling over $3.1 billion and 117,135 emergency [loan] grants totaling over $550 million being disbursed to potentially ineligible recipients,” wrote Hannibal “Mike” Ware, SBA inspector general. “Our preliminary review of Treasury’s [do not pay] analytical summaries indicated SBA should reassess controls to ensure only eligible recipients obtained COVID-19 [loans] and emergency [loan] grants.” 

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 1:30 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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