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Coronavirus Roundup: $60 Million Grants Awarded for Public Health AmeriCorps; DOD Consolidates COVID Guidance

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

Oral arguments began on Friday morning for the legal challenge over the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors that has been on hold since December. This comes after an appeals court reinstated President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees in a ruling on Thursday evening, which overturned a lower court’s nationwide pause that was in effect since January. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

On April 4, the Defense Department released a consolidated version of its COVID-19 guidance for Defense workforce, contractors and visitors. “This memorandum consolidates and replaces the listed [force health protection] memoranda, complies with applicable court orders, and is consistent with relevant presidential directives and Office of Management and Budget and Safer Federal Workforce Task Force guidance,” Gilbert Cisneros, Jr., undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, wrote in the memo. “As federal COVID-19 guidance and requirements evolve, I will revise the affected portions of this document to rapidly update and disseminate targeted [force health protection] guidance to all DoD components.” 

Attorney General Merrick Garland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the high-profile figures, who tested positive for the coronavirus this week after being at the Gridiron Club Dinner in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. Garland and Raimondo are fully vaccinated and boosted. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that despite the recent increase of COVID-19 cases at this juncture it isn’t as bad as during the Omicron wave and “the steps we have taken here, including policy put in place to ensure that ‘return to work’ was part of our policies in the federal government, are meant to ensure that can continue to be the case. At the White House while individuals have been out, “everyone here is required to be tested, highly recommended to be boosted” and “the vast, vast majority have mild cases and are continuing to work from home,” she said.

The Senate is delaying a vote on additional COVID-19 funding until after their two-week spring break, Politico reported on Thursday. “The move came days after Senate Republicans stopped the legislation from advancing because they weren’t guaranteed an amendment vote on reinstating Title 42, the Trump-era policy that allows for the expulsion of migrants at the border during the pandemic,” the report stated. Also, “Democrats had grudgingly settled for a far smaller COVID aid package than they wanted and that federal officials and public health advocates say is needed” and the issue of Title 42 has “divided the caucus.”

AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday that they awarded more than 80 grants to state and local organizations for a Public Health AmeriCorps. The first-year grants total more than $60 million, which will let the Public Health AmeriCorps programs recruit nearly 3,000 members. The American Rescue Plan Act allocated $400 million for this over the course of five years. “Public Health AmeriCorps is a first of its kind response to the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and social determinants of health,” said Michael Smith, AmeriCorps CEO, in a press release. “These new AmeriCorps members will add capacity to strained public health systems and build a career pathway for future public health leaders from underserved communities.”

The Treasury Department issued a fact-sheet on Friday explaining how its implementation of the American Rescue Plan has prioritized equity. “Treasury created a new Office of Recovery Programs to lead the department’s implementation of more than $1 trillion in economic relief and recovery programs, with a particular focus on promoting an equitable economic recovery,” the fact-sheet stated. The office “has worked closely with the White House and across federal agencies to execute a coordinated strategy to support people in underserved communities across the country, especially communities of color.” The department’s main objects have been “engaging the most impacted communities, implementing additional flexibilities to meet the needs of marginalized individuals, and providing capital to historically underserved communities.” 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration could have done more to collaborate with external agencies on enforcement and oversight during the pandemic to meet its influx of complaints, the Labor Department inspector general said in a recent report. “In the last decade, the number of OSHA’s federal [compliance safety and health officers] has decreased from 1,059 in 2011 to 748 in 2020 while business establishments to inspect increased by over 600,000 to nearly 8 million,” the report stated. Collaboration “could help OSHA bolster its reduced inspection resources and better protect workers during a large-scale safety and health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

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