Coronavirus Roundup: CDC Advisory Committee to Meet Friday; FEMA Funeral Assistance Ramps Up

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The National Institutes of Health announced last week it is awarding up to $33 million (from the American Rescue Plan) over the next two years to fund testing initiatives to facilitate return to in-person learning in underserved areas. “Many children have inequitable access to reliable virtual learning, and it is important they are able to participate safely in person while also maintaining the health and safety of the school and general communities,” said Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., director of NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and co-chair of the RADx-UP program, in a statement. “Establishing frequent COVID-19 testing protocols for schools in vulnerable and underserved communities is essential to the safe return to school effort, and these projects will inform decision makers on the best strategies to accomplish this.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he doesn’t believe use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be canceled altogether. He thinks there will be “some sort of warning or restriction or risk assessment” instead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee on immunization practices will meet on Friday, according to a notice posted in the Federal Register on Friday. The committee is scheduled to vote on recommendations for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

The White House outlined on Friday how it’s putting $1.7 billion from the American Rescue Plan toward fighting coronavirus variants. The funding will be allocated through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will expand genomic sequencing, establish six Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology and build and support a national bioinformatics infrastructure. 

The White House also said on Friday it would put $4 billion from the American Rescue Plan to help Indian Country. The funding “will expand COVID-19 vaccinations, testing, and treatment; increase preventive health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives at higher risk for COVID-19; expand hospitals’ and health clinics’ ability to serve their communities during the pandemic and beyond; and provide the Indian Health Service, tribal health programs, and urban Indian health programs with needed funding to make up for lost reimbursements experienced during the pandemic,” a fact-sheet stated. 

The Office of Personnel Management recently released data on pre-pandemic telework, Federal News Network reported on Monday. Twenty-two percent of all federal employees teleworked at some point in fiscal 2019. Among those who were eligible to telework, 56% did so, which was up 5% from fiscal 2018. “In the year before the pandemic, fewer feds as a share of the total workforce were eligible for telework — 39% in 2019 compared to 42% during the previous year — but OPM warns the data may be misleading,” said the report. This is because “agencies at the time still struggled to track and report telework participation and eligibility data.” It is still not clear exactly how many federal employees shifted to telework in fiscal 2020. 

The Treasury Department is seeking public comment on a new proposed rule that would exempt the system of records maintained by the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery from a few provisions of the Privacy Act. Under federal law, “the head of a federal agency may promulgate rules to exempt a system of records from certain provisions of 5 U.S.C. 552a if the system of records contains investigatory materials compiled for law enforcement purposes,” said the department. Public comments are due by May 17.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is working on clearer guidance on when employers can give vaccine incentives, Bloomberg reported. The incentives have included paid time off and cash bonuses, but the EEOC hasn’t said yet whether or not they violate the law. 

The Justice Department inspector general said on Friday it started a review of the Justice Department’s coordination and management of initiatives to address pandemic-related fraud.

Friday marked the one-year anniversary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations launching “Operation Stolen Promise” to protect the country against coronavirus-related crime. “HSI and its partners have seized over $48 million in illicit proceeds, opened more than 1,000 criminal investigations and made more than 2,000 seizures of mislabeled, fraudulent, or prohibited COVID-19 vaccines, test kits, including more than 21.2 million counterfeit respirator masks prevented from reaching hospital workers and first responders since April 15, 2020,” ICE said in a statement. The initiative “has resulted in 267 arrests and scores of ongoing criminal investigations.”

By the end of last week, more than 90,000 people started applying for funeral assistance for deaths resulting from the coronavirus, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There are 5,000 phone agents available with applications. “The agency provides funeral assistance as a normal part of the disaster process through our Individual Assistance program,” said the agency in a press release. ‘However, FEMA has never delivered this assistance on this scale before and we expect a high volume of calls to continue. We recognize the frustration this brings to people who have already dealt with so much and are working to ensure every person who needs to file an application can do so as easily as possible.

On Saturday, the Small Business Administration announced the details for applying for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion initiative through the American Rescue Plan to help restaurants and bars impacted by the pandemic. “Thanks to clear directives from Congress, we’re rolling out this program to make sure that these businesses can meet payroll, purchase supplies, and get what they need in place to transition to today’s COVID-restricted marketplace,” said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, in a statement. “We’re also focused on ensuring that the [restaurant revitalization] program’s application process is streamlined and free of burdensome, bureaucratic hurdles – while still maintaining robust oversight.” 

Upcoming: Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 12:15 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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