Coronavirus Roundup: Concerns About Delta Variant and Military and VA Vaccinations 

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Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, announced on Thursday the administration is readying “surge response teams” who will send resources, such as testing supplies and therapeutics, to communities experiencing coronavirus outbreaks due to the Delta variants. 

They will also “deploy federal personnel where needed and where requested to address gaps and augment local staff supporting vaccination, testing and therapeutics work,” as well as “leverage [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] technical expertise to help communities experiencing or at risk for becoming hotspots with containment, including assisting with epidemiology, data analysis, field investigations, and other public health response work,” Zients said. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Veterans Affairs Department and military are struggling to increase vaccinations in their ranks amid concerns about the delta variant, The New York Times reported on Thursday. “The secretary of Veterans Affairs said this week that he was considering a move to compel workers at VA hospitals to get vaccinated, fearing that centers with low vaccination rates were risking the health of veterans seeking care,” said the report. “The military is also struggling to fully vaccinate more troops across all service branches. While the Army and Navy are outpacing the civilian population in vaccine uptake, the Air Force and the Marine Corps have faced greater challenges. About 68% of active-duty members have had at least one dose.” President Biden could require members of the military to get vaccinated (even if the vaccines don’t have full approval from the Food and Drug Administration), but he hasn’t done so yet, The Times noted.

The Army directed all commands to get ready for mandatory vaccinations as early as September, depending on if the vaccines get full approval from the FDA, The Army Times reported on Thursday. “The directive came from an execute order sent to the force by Department of the Army Headquarters,” said the report. “The Pentagon has not put out any guidance to the services to prepare for a mandatory vaccine roll-out in September, a defense official separately told Army Times.

Prison health care workers, union leaders and prisoners’ rights advocates were alarmed that the people in charge of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ health division during the pandemic did not have medical licenses, NBC News and the Marshall Project reported. When the pandemic first hit “the senior official responsible for overseeing health care and safety in all of the more than 120 lockups was Nicole English, a career corrections officer with a graduate degree in public administration — and no hands-on health care experience,” said the report. “When she switched roles at the height of the pandemic, her replacement, Michael Smith, also had no formal medical education.” To date, 44,056 inmates and 6,883 staff have recovered from the coronavirus and there have been 240 inmate and four staff deaths. Currently, 31 inmates and 137 staff have positive cases, according to BOP’s data.

The Biden administration is getting ready for the next pandemic as the delta variant surges, such as by rethinking its testing stockpile strategies, Politico reported on Thursday. 

The New York Times reported on the logistical hurdles the Biden administration must go through in order to share millions of vaccine doses abroad. “The dose-sharing effort has evolved into a constant churn of activity across the federal government, with deputy-level meetings several times a week and daily operations calls,” said the report. “The White House can hold as many as 15 country-specific calls a day, beginning at 7 a.m. and often involving the National Security Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State and Defense departments and other agencies.”

During a briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked for the guidelines to industry about vaccination verifications that the administration previously mentioned. “I’ve spoken to industry groups who are somewhat concerned that there isn’t much clarity about vaccine verification — the travel industry, for instance,” the reporter pointed out. 

Psaki replied, “they were always meant to be basically an FAQ on the website. I don’t know that they were meant to be anything more formal than that.” She added: “I can certainly check and see what’s on our website — or what information, I should say, we’re providing to businesses who inquire.” It was not clear to which website she was referring. The Hill previously reported on June 26 that the federal government hasn’t given any “kind of guidance or support to businesses that want to require proof of vaccination for customers and employees.”

In response to another question about the United States possibly requiring vaccines for travel someday, Psaki said “I would say that is not our intention.” 

Questions have been raised about whether or not businesses from the contestants from the reality shows “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” should have received loans from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 12:30 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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