The Senate passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Saturday, following an all-night “vote-a-rama” that began Friday, sending the bill back to the House for a Tuesday vote on the altered version. “When I was elected, I said we were going to get the government out of the business of battling on Twitter and back in the business of delivering for the American people, of making a difference in their lives, giving everyone a chance—a fighting chance—of showing the American people that their government can work for them,” said Biden during his remarks on Saturday. “And passing the American Rescue Plan will do that.” Here are some of the other recent headlines from over the weekend and today that you might have missed.
Biden issued an executive order on Monday creating a White House Gender Policy Council, which will “address responses to the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 on women and girls, especially those related to health, gender‑based violence, educational access and attainment, and economic status.” The assistant to the president on COVID-19 response will be one of the at least 36 council members. Monday is International Women’s Day.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing on Monday that Biden will give his first prime-time address on Thursday night, which is the anniversary of the coronavirus lockdowns.
Andy Slavitt, White House senior coronavirus adviser, said during a briefing on Friday that the administration is opening additional Federal Emergency Management Agency-supported vaccine sites at the Atlanta Falcons Stadium in Georgia and the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Each will be able to administer 6,000 shots per day. “Both of these sites sit in neighborhoods hit hard by the pandemic and are well known in the community,” he said. “This brings the total to 18 FEMA-supported sites across seven states with the ability to administer more than 60,000 shots per day.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is working to restore her agency’s morale and reputation after the Trump era, Politico reported on Friday. While she has gone on a listening tour at the CDC headquarters, attends the White House’s COVID briefings and is engaging with career staff, “officials at the CDC and other federal health agencies said she has yet to lay out a vision for the CDC’s response to COVID-19 and beyond,” according to Politico. “They worry the agency will again be beholden to the White House — which, despite President Joe Biden’s promises to champion science, could be tempted to maintain control of the narrative by overriding experts’ policy recommendations.”
The CDC issued much-anticipated guidance on Monday about what people who have been vaccinated can do. Those in non-health care settings can visit with others fully vaccinated without masks or social distancing, visit with unvaccinated individuals from one household that are at low-risk for contracting COVID without wearing a mask or social distancing, and abstain from quarantining and testing if exposed to the virus and asymptomatic. The guidance also outlines what precautions vaccinated individuals still must take to protect themselves and others.
The White House is working with social media influencers to sell its messages, such as supporting the president’s COVID relief plan, Axios reported on Sunday. This reflects what the Biden team did during the campaign to “reach a younger demographic wary of the possibility of an older, out-of-touch president.”
The federal government’s strategic national stockpile was so depleted at the start of the pandemic a year ago because the government’s purchases were mainly influenced by a group of biotech firms that specializes in products for bioterrorism, rather than infectious diseases, The New York Times reported on Saturday. “Throughout most of the last decade, the government has spent nearly half of the stockpile’s half-billion-dollar annual budget on [Emergent BioSolutions’] anthrax vaccines,” which “left the government with less money to buy supplies needed in a pandemic, despite repeatedly being advised to do so,” said the report. “In the two decades since the repository was created, Emergent’s aggressive tactics, broad political connections and penchant for undercutting competitors have given it remarkable sway over the government’s purchasing decisions related to the vaccines.” The last anthrax attack in the United States was in 2001.
The Biden administration is preparing a $650 million public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing for schools and “congregate settings,” such as homeless shelters by creating “testing hubs,” Politico reported on Sunday. The Health and Human Services Department hopes to open the first hub by April and the administration hopes they will be able to do 150,000 tests per week by the end of April.
Chad Hooper, executive director of the Professional Managers Association, which represents non-collective bargaining unit employees and management officials at the Internal Revenue Service, spoke about how the agency is handling a second tax-filing season during the pandemic in an interview with Federal News Network on Friday. “Commissioner [Chuck Rettig] worked really hard to be proactive here and keep people home, as long as we could, they did call back the rest of the folks who have — we call them — non-portable duties, they have to be in the office to process these tax returns,” he said. “So we asked for all of those employees to come back at the beginning of February. They gave us a couple of weeks to train them on any changes, show them how the social distancing is working. And the work processes are more spread out now, in order to have as normal a filing season as we can for this year.”
In late 2017, U.S. diplomats and officials at the Beijing Embassy warned Washington about safety concerns at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China and that researchers found a new coronaviruses from bats, but the State Department ignored them, according to Josh Rogin, Global Opinions columnist at The Washington Post who published an article adapted from his new book in Politico on Monday. “As the pandemic set in worldwide, the origin story was largely set-aside in the public coverage of the crisis,” he wrote. “But the internal government debate continued, now over whether the United States should release more information about what it knew about the lab and its possible connection to the outbreak.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about how fraud can be deterred in the Small Business Administration’s loan programs, such as those for the pandemic.
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