Coronavirus Roundup: Military Suicides Increase in 2020; Senate Asks for More Transparency on Small Business Loans
Twenty-one states reported an increase of at least 10% in coronavirus cases on Sunday, compared to the previous week. The majority of these states were in the West. Meanwhile, 18 states maintained steady rates and 11 experienced a decrease of more than 10% of cases, according to a CNN analysis. Here are some of the other headlines from over the weekend and today that you might have missed.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., wrote to the Small Business Administration on Friday asking for more transparency on how many loans from the $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program were returned because borrowers were either ineligible or no longer needed them. Scott would like to know what the agency is doing with these returned funds. “We owe it to the American people to be as transparent as possible about how their money is being spent, and we must do everything in our power to ensure there is accountability and oversight,” he wrote.
Although the federal government said that Paycheck Protection Program loans would be forgiven if employers maintained their payrolls, none have been forgiven yet, Politico reported on Sunday. “Lenders that helped the government deliver the money are warning that the effort is running into new delays and complications that could leave struggling employers on the hook with unanticipated debt,” said the report. “Banks say the process for converting the government-backed loans into grants has been frustrating because of a lack of communication from the [SBA] and the Treasury Department, which have run the effort since Congress created it in March.”
The Health and Human Services Department’s recent $300 million communications effort to “inspire hope” about the pandemic, which will involve celebrity interviews, is causing concerns among current and former staff about the campaign’s goals and how the money is being spent, Politico reported on Friday. Michael Caputo, top HHS spokesman, who recently went on medical leave, spearheaded this initiative. “Since providing the funds, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has had little say in the coronavirus campaign’s development,” according to the report. “The unusual arrangement has alarmed some department staff, who have questioned why Caputo’s team is so closely coordinating the project while excluding the professional messaging staff at CDC.”
In addition to the $250 million contract––that House lawmakers are currently investigating––Caputo used the Food and Drug Administration to award a separate $15 million contract with Atlas Research and HHS recommended it subcontract to the firm DD&T, which is run by a long-time business partner of Caputo, Politico reported. “Three FDA officials involved in the agency’s response to coronavirus said they were previously unaware that Caputo’s team had used the FDA to help manage its new advertising campaign,” said the report. “You’re breaking news to me,” one official told Politico.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said on a call that Dr. Scott Atlas, a new White House coronavirus task force member, is sharing incorrect information about the pandemic with Trump and the public. “Everything he says is false,” he said on a phone call in public on a commercial airline that NBC News overheard. Atlas, a neuroradiologist, does not have any prior experience in public health or infectious diseases.
During the year of the pandemic, suicides in the military have increased as much as 20% compared to the same period in 2019, based on preliminary data. “COVID adds stress,” said Gen. Charles Brown, the Air Force chief, at an event. “From a suicide perspective, we are on a path to be as bad as last year. And that’s not just an Air Force problem, this is a national problem because COVID adds some additional stressors – a fear of the unknown for certain folks,” The Washington Post reported on Saturday.
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, established in the CARES Act, is looking to hire a chief counsel. The posting in USAJobs will be open until October 16. The chief counsel will work under the executive director and report to the deputy executive director. Read Government Executive’s recent interview with Robert Westbrooks, PRAC executive director, that covers the first six months of the committee’s oversight efforts, its relationship with other oversight agencies, and future plans.
The CDC pulled its door-to-door surveyors from Minnesota following reports of intimidation and racial and ethnic slurs being shouted at the federal public health teams, The Star Tribune reported on Friday. The survey was supposed to run from Sept. 14-30 to study the pandemic’s impact on the state. It “is totally understandable,” to be frustrated at the state’s coronavirus response, “but that is distinctly different than taking out frustration on another human being who is trying to help and is especially galling when there is a taint of racism,” Dr. Ruth Lynfield, a state epidemiologist, told the outlet. “There is no justification for this — the enemy is the virus and not the public health workers who are trying to help.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about how to optimize your work from home experience.
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