Coronavirus Roundup: Holiday Week Catch-Up
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
The holidays were marked with rampant COVID-19 cases and disrupted travel, partly as a result of the increased caseload. Airlines have been facing staffing shortages and the Federal Aviation Administration told CNN on Friday an “increased number” of its own employees have tested positive, so “to maintain safety, traffic volume at some facilities could be reduced, which might result in delays during busy periods.” Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration told CNN on Thursday that it has "adequate staff to cover flight schedules and passenger volumes.”
Winter storms in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic now add to the complications. So far, as of mid-morning on Monday, there are 6,102 delays globally and 3,520 cancellations globally, compared to 19,617 and 4,465, respectively on Sunday, according to the tracking service FlightAware. Here are some of the other recent headlines from over the holidays that you might have missed.
Five Smithsonian museums temporarily closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks among staff. The National Museum of African Art, National Postal Museum, Anacostia Community Museum and National Museum of Asian Art (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery) were closed starting December 29 and are scheduled to reopen on January 3. The National Museum of Natural History, which is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, was closed as of December 30 and is scheduled to reopen on January 5. “Over the last few days, the Smithsonian has seen an increase in positive COVID cases and associated quarantine periods among our essential and operational staff,” said a press release from the Smithsonian Institution on December 29. The closures will “allow the Smithsonian to reallocate staff and keep all other museums open for the remainder of the week.”
The Food and Drug Administration approved two more at-home COVID-19 tests last week. These tests were the first to gain approval through the Biden administration's “new accelerated pathway,” the Health and Human Services Department announced on December 29. “Combined, it is estimated the companies can produce tens of millions of tests per month for use in the U.S.”
The FDA on Monday approved Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for 12-15 year olds. For that vaccine it also reduced the time frame between primary vaccination and booster to at least five months as well as allowed a third primary series dose for children ages five to 11 with certain immune deficiencies.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh was asked in an interview with The Washington Post, published on December 31, if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be able to “aggressively enforce” the vaccine rule for private businesses by the deadline after the number of inspectors decreased under the Trump administration. “I see an aggressive implementation by companies. There’ll be aggressive compliance and aggressive implementation if we need it,” Walsh replied. “But I do think at the end of the day, companies want their employees to come back to work. Now, obviously, we’re dealing with the new variant. So that will dictate a lot of what companies are doing.”
The Supreme Court will hold a special hearing on January 7 to consider challenges to the OSHA vaccine rule and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services vaccine mandate. “The nation is facing an unprecedented pandemic that is sickening and killing thousands of workers around the country, and any further delay in the implementation of the [emergency temporary standard] will result in unnecessary illness, hospitalizations, and deaths because of workplace exposure to SARS-CoV-2,” wrote Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar in a filing on December 30 regarding the OSHA rule.
OSHA’s initial COVID-19 emergency temporary standard, which only applied to health care workers, issued in June, has expired and now the agency is working on a permanent one. “However, given that OSHA anticipates a final rule cannot be completed in a timeframe approaching the one contemplated by the OSH Act, OSHA…is withdrawing the non-recordkeeping portions of the healthcare [emergency temporary standard],” said the agency on December 27. Members of the law firm Baker Donelson explained in a recent post how this situation comports with the OSHA vaccine rule for businesses with 100 or more employees.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement on Sunday he tested positive for coronavirus and has mild symptoms. “My last meeting with President Biden occurred on Tuesday, December 21st, more than a week before I began to experience symptoms,” said Austin.
The Defense Department published a new memo on December 30 about testing considerations, capabilities and eligibility. There are provisions for service members, contractors, civilians and family members.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory on December 30 saying everyone should avoid cruises regardless of vaccination status, following the surge of COVID-19 cases among passengers and staff on cruises. “Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of cruise ships meeting the COVID-19 case threshold for CDC investigation,” said the agency.
The CDC is considering changing its isolation guidance to say that individuals who test positive for COVID-19 have to have a negative test before they leave quarantine, following pushback, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
The Internal Revenue Service is getting ready for its third tax filing season during the pandemic and “there will be some signs of business as usual,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday. “Even so, the agency is still contending with piles of work from the messy 2020 tax year while facing new challenges, including the prospect of retroactive legislation and pandemic-era tax-law changes that will require extra attention from taxpayers.”
A federal judge in Louisiana blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for teachers in the Head Start early education program, The Associated Press reported on Sunday. The “ruling affects Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming and West Virginia,” said the report. It “is similar to a Friday ruling in which a federal judge also blocked the Head Start mandate in Texas.” It was not immediately clear if the Biden administration will appeal the decision.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced it will enforce its vaccine mandate in the 25 states, District of Columbia, and territories where the court has not enjoined it. “Enforcement will be made along a modified timeline,” an associate at the law firm Bass, Berry & Sims PLC explained in a post on December 30.
The FDA is seeking comments on draft guidance about the transition away from medical device policies implemented for the pandemic. The deadline is March 23.
The General Services Administration is extending the waiver of certain provisions of the Federal Travel Regulation due to the ongoing pandemic and disruptions in federal employee travel and relocations, according to a notice published in the Federal Register on December 27.
It is estimated that the retirement package of Fauci, who has been the face of the pandemic response, would exceed $350,000 per year, Forbes reported on December 28. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as well as chief medical advisor to the president, has been a federal employee for 55 years. He turned 81 on Christmas Eve.
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