Coronavirus Roundup: VA Resumes Public Memorial Day Services; Surgeon General Warns of Health Workforce Burnout
There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.
BTS, a Grammy nominated K-pop group, will meet with President Biden at the White House next Tuesday to celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month as well as discuss anti-Asian hate crimes, which have dramatically increased during the pandemic.
Just last week, the Biden administration marked the one-year anniversary of the president enacting the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. More details about BTS’s visit will come soon, the White House said on Thursday. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned on Monday of burnout and resignations among the health care workforce. “COVID-19 has been a uniquely traumatic experience for the health workforce and for their families, pushing them past their breaking point. Now, we owe them a debt of gratitude and action,” said Murthy. “And if we fail to act, we will place our nation’s health at risk.” A new 76-page advisory “outlines how we can all help heal those who have sacrificed so much to help us heal.”
The Veterans Affairs Department will hold public Memorial Day ceremonies for the first time in two years due to the pandemic. The ceremonies will take place May 28 and 30.
The White House announced on Thursday the launch of the first federally-supported “test-to-treat site,” which is in Rhode Island with more states to come in the following weeks. The Biden administration is also sending personnel to assist a state-run site in Minnesota. Test-to-treat is an “initiative to help make it easier for people to quickly access oral antiviral treatments in one convenient location,” said a fact-sheet from the White House. “There are now more than 2,500 test-to-treat locations across the country at local pharmacies and community health centers—up from 2,200 a month ago.”
The Food and Drug Administration's vaccine advisory committee will meet on June 7 to discuss Novavax’s application for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine, said a notice published in the Federal Register.
The FDA set June 14-15 as the new meeting dates for the advisory committee to review pediatric vaccine applications from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. “We know parents are anxious for us to determine if these vaccines are safe & effective,” the FDA tweeted on Monday. “In light of the disclosure by Pfizer re: their data & anticipated dates for submission, we believe that we will complete review of both [emergency use authorization] requests within days of one another.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t ensure that all migrants were tested for COVID-19 before they were transported on domestic commercial flights, said a recent report from the Homeland Security Department inspector general, based on fiscal 2021. “This occurred because [ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations] policies are unclear and ERO does not have controls in place to enforce them. Additionally, some of these policies do not apply to [unaccompanied children], who are not detained in ICE facilities,” said the report. Therefore, “ERO may transport COVID-19–positive migrants on domestic commercial flights,” which “poses a risk of exposing other migrants, ERO staff, and the general public to COVID-19.”
The National Security Agency IG flagged concerns in a new report on how the NSA implemented section 3610 of the CARES Act, which provided relief flexibilities for federal contractors. “Evolving guidelines, reduced contract oversight staffing during the COVID-19 pandemic, an overreliance on [contractors'] provided information, and the absence of clear and comprehensive contracting officer representative oversight procedures for CARES invoices caused the OIG to question more than $16.4 million, or 40% of the sampled CARES invoice charges,” wrote IG Robert Storch. “The questionable costs were due to the status of contractor employees, differences in invoice documentation, and questionable billing rates, hours, and timeframes.”
A watchdog report released on Thursday adds to what is already known about the challenges the Small Business Administration faced in administering Paycheck Protection Program loans. “SBA did not have an organizational structure with clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and processes to manage and handle potentially fraudulent [paycheck protection] loans,” nor did it have a “centralized entity to design, lead, and manage fraud risk,” said the report. “In addition, lenders were not always clear on how to handle [paycheck protection] fraud or recover funds obtained fraudulently from the [program] that remained in the borrower’s account.”
The company that produced the gun used in the tragic elementary school shooting in Texas on Tuesday received a $3.1 million Paycheck Protection Program loan in early April 2020 and was one of almost 500 gun and ammunition makers and merchants to receive this type of aid, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
When asked during the briefing on Thursday if the administration has plans to get back the money, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said this was the first she was hearing of it and would need to check with her team.
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