HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the report “reaffirms what we have said all along: COVID-19 vaccines save lives and prevent hospitalizations.”

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the report “reaffirms what we have said all along: COVID-19 vaccines save lives and prevent hospitalizations.” Alex Wong/Getty Images

Coronavirus Roundup: Current and Former IRS Employees Face COVID Fraud Charges 

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

A new Health and Human Services Department report details the reductions in deaths and hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Our model results indicate that COVID-19 vaccinations were associated with an estimated 670,000–680,000 fewer hospitalizations and 330,000–370,000 fewer deaths among all Medicare beneficiaries through the end of 2021,” the report said. “This represents a 39–47% reduction in these outcomes.” Additionally, the reductions in hospitalizations translated to an approximate $16.3– $16.5 billion savings in hospital costs, which is a six-fold increase from HHS’s previous study, said the report, released Friday. 

“This report reaffirms what we have said all along: COVID-19 vaccines save lives and prevent hospitalizations,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, in a statement. “I urge everyone eligible to get an updated COVID vaccine to protect yourself ahead of the fall and winter.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

Five current or former Internal Revenue Service employees were charged with defrauding the COVID relief programs for small businesses, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday. “This matter demonstrates the brazenness with which bad actors have taken advantage of federal programs meant to help those who suffered most from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kevin Chambers, director of COVID fraud enforcement. 

“These cases were brought as part of an interagency effort to combat and prevent CARES Act fraud by federal employees,” the Justice Department stated. “The initiative is led by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Fraud Section, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, and agents with [the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration] and [Small Business Administration inspector general].” Government Executive asked the Justice Department for more information on this effort, but officials declined to comment. 

A federal appeals court in New Orleans on Monday was the latest to hear arguments in the slew of challenges to the vaccine mandate for federal contractors. This particular case involves the mandate in Louisiana, Mississippi and Indiana. “Judges repeatedly asked Justice Department attorney David Peters about limitations on presidential power under federal law,” Insurance Journal reported. “They asked whether a president could go so far as to require that contractors only hire people from homes where there are no smokers, or where birth control is used.” Peters said a rule involving family members would be out of bounds. 

“Elizabeth Murrill of the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office argued that the administration went too far in a matter that affects contracts in three states involving more than $100 billion in spending,” said the report. “Murrill also made much of a Biden interview that aired in mid-September in which he said the pandemic was over, a remark he later clarified after facing heat from health experts, who worry the message might slow prevention efforts.” 

A new watchdog report looks at how the Federal Emergency Management Agency used mission assignments, which are work orders to do specific tasks, to provide COVID funding to federal agencies to support the pandemic response. “Although [FEMA] processed and obligated funds timely to other federal agencies, it did not provide sufficient oversight to ensure [other federal agencies] used pandemic funding as required,” the report from the Homeland Security Department inspector general said. FEMA officials followed unofficial processes instead of the agency’s mission assignment guide and FEMA’s close out team didn’t have enough staffing to check back in with agencies when they didn’t give the necessary data.

“As a result, FEMA does not have adequate visibility into how [agencies] ultimately used more than $8.3 billion in obligated funds for COVID-19 [mission assignments] and we are questioning as unsupported more than $103 million FEMA reimbursed to [agencies] without sufficient documentation to determine eligibility,” the report said. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the president’s chief medical adviser, went with comedian Stephen Colbert to get his updated booster shot. Watch the video here.

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.