Coronavirus Roundup: White House Will Be Looking Into the Possibility of More Vaccine Requirements for Feds

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients speaks during a press briefing at the White House in April. Zients said Monday the White House will be looking into more potential vaccine mandates in some parts of the government. Patrick Semansky / AP

The White House released on Tuesday the breakdown of many vaccines the Biden administration had donated to other countries. “Today, the President will announce that the U.S. has now donated and shipped more than 110 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines to more than 60 countries–a major milestone that cements the United States as the global leader in COVID-19 vaccine donations,” said a fact sheet. “Importantly, the United States has not and will not use its vaccines to secure favors from other countries. Our aim is to save lives.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.

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During the briefing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked if agencies are paying for COVID-19 tests for federal employees who don’t get vaccinated (as was said on Friday), does that mean taxpayers will be paying for them? “I can check…with each agency. It may be different agency to agency, but it’s typically—probably would be a part of their funding,” Psaki replied. “But I can check and see if there’s more clarification on that front.”

Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Friday, “agencies will pay for the cost of regular federal employee screening tests.” It is not clear so far if that will include federal contractors as well.

During a briefing late on Monday afternoon, a reporter asked if there will be more vaccine mandates coming following the news about the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments. “We will be looking, across the federal government, in other areas that could require these types of mandates, if you will, for vaccination,” said Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator. “At the same time, I think it’s really encouraging that we’re seeing the private sector follow. I mentioned Walmart, Disney, and Google all announcing vaccine requirements, and there’s dozens of other companies that are doing these types of actions to protect their workers as they come back to work—universities, other health systems.”

Another question was why isn’t the federal government going further on requirements for unvaccinated federal employees in order to incentivize them to just get vaccinated. “I think we’ve taken significant steps here to make it difficult to come back to work, or more difficult to come back to work, if you’re not vaccinated,” Zients replied. “At the same time, we will continue to look across the federal government at other areas where requiring …everyone [to] be vaccinated may make sense, particularly in the healthcare setting.”

The Government Employees Health Association, the largest dental and second largest medical benefits provider for federal employees, extended its vaccine incentive program to September 6 to encourage more individuals to get vaccinated. Eligible members will receive a $75 wellness account credit, which they can use for certain expenses such as x-rays, office visits, co-payments and prescription drugs, if they get fully vaccinated.

The White House is enlisting influencers from TikTok and other platforms for a vaccine campaign to target 12-17 year olds, The New York Times reported. “The White House began considering the power of online creators in January, repurposing the influencer marketing tactics that Mr. Biden had used on the campaign trail toward promoting vaccinations, said Rob Flaherty, the White House director of digital strategy,” said the report. “Since then, the Biden administration has rolled out influencer discussions with Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and brought Ms. [Olivia] Rodrigo to the White House, where she urged people to ‘actually get to a vaccination site.’”

The watchdog group Project on Government Oversight released a new report on Monday about how to fix reporting on the federal government’s spending. “Tracking the trillions our government spends each and every year has always been difficult, more difficult than it should be,” said the report. “But last year, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a huge spending surge from the federal government,” which showed “failures in our reporting systems for federal awards that keep the public in the dark.” According to POGO, this can be remedied in three steps: fix current reporting methods (such as with award descriptions for contracts), fill gaps in reporting (for example, require all agencies to report their awards on USAspending.gov) and track new data points (such as how federal awards are affecting jobs and how federal funds are being distributed among different demographic groups).

Politico reported on Monday about the tensions in the Biden administration regarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s change in mask guidance for vaccinated individuals. “Officials in the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services questioned whether recommending Americans wear masks again would help with the pandemic fight,” said the report. “CDC Director Rochelle Walensky argued otherwise. She lobbied Biden officials, including Biden’s Chief Medical Officer Anthony Fauci, to issue new recommendations.” Despite the fact that Biden and Fauci were on board, “both her office and the White House have privately expressed frustration with one another.”

The Homeland Security Department and CDC said on Monday the administration will indefinitely continue the public health Trump-era policy to expel migrants and asylum seekers from the United States. “As part of the United States’ COVID-19 mitigation efforts, DHS will continue to process individuals in accordance with the CDC’s updated Title 42 Order,” which “is not an immigration authority, but a public health authority,” said DHS in a statement. “While we continue to defer to public health experts on decisions related to Title 42, the Biden-Harris administration continues to work to build a fair, orderly and humane immigration system, including by expanding lawful pathways to the United States and discouraging irregular migration.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are in court trying to stop the order, NPR reported on Monday. “When Biden took office, he quickly reversed several of Trump’s harshest immigration policies, pledging a more ‘humane’ system,” said the report. “But the new administration kept using Title 42 to shut out most people seeking asylum, to the consternation of advocates who had sued the U.S. government to stop it. The administration made exceptions for unaccompanied children and some families.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on Tuesday it’s extending its assistance for non-congregate sheltering for individuals fleeing disasters through November 30. “FEMA recognizes sheltering operations during the COVID-19 public health emergency may require states, tribes and territories to consider additional strategies to ensure survivors are sheltered in a manner that does not increase the risk of exposure to or further transmit the disease,” said a press release. “After a Stafford Act declaration, states, tribes and territories may be eligible for reimbursement of costs associated with non-congregate sheltering.”

Upcoming:

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 1:30 p.m.
President Biden will give remarks at 3:45 p.m. on his administration’s vaccination efforts at home and abroad

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?

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