Weekly Update: DHS Response to COVID-19

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its committed workforce cross more than a dozen offices. Components have been working in concert with the White House to execute an aggressive response to the COVID -19 pandemic. DHS continues to remain focused on security and safety for the American people as the American Economy is reopened.

“Responding to COVID-19 requires not just a whole of government approach, but instead a whole of America response. I am happy to represent DHS by providing support to Health and Human Services as they remind our citizens, we each have to do our parts and recognize our own personal responsibility to stop the spread; to practice the CDC guidelines and inspire those around us to do the same- together we can stop the spread,” said Dr. Alex Eastman, CWMD Senior Medical Officer for Operations.

Below is a list of some of the DHS efforts against COVID-19 last week:

Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD)

Over the holiday weekend, the CWMD Senior Medical Officer for Operations, Dr. Alex Eastman, provided direct support to Health and Human Services (HHS) by traveling to various locations in his home state of Texas and speaking to members of the press. DHS is working hard to support the whole of government response to COVID-19 and Dr. Eastman’s visits were just a part of these ongoing efforts.

CWMD contract personnel are continuing to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with enhanced screenings for travelers through 15 specially designated airports. As of July 4, CWMD has processed more than 408,790 travelers for enhanced screening, including 1,549 who were referred to CDC for further medical evaluation.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

On July 2, FEMA approved $1.1 million to reimburse the State of Nevada for the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of state, county, and tribal personnel, healthcare facility workers, and first responders.

Appointments to Support State Level Response. On July 1, FEMA and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency (Ohio EMA) announced the appointment of five Ohioans to the FEMA workforce to support the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

FEMA’s Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force created Project Airbridge as a temporary solution to shorten the amount of time it takes for U.S. medical supply distributors to bring personal protective equipment (PPE) and other critical medical supplies into the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic response. Since its inception, Project Airbridge has completed 249 flights and brought in the following supplies from overseas manufacturers and into private sector supply chains: Over 5.3 million N95 respirators, 937 million gloves, 122 million surgical masks, 63.3 million gowns, 2.6 million face/eye shields, 2.4 million thermometers, 1.4 million coveralls, 370,000 oxygen masks and 109,000 stethoscopes. Recognizing the PPE supply chain is stabilizing across the nation, the Unified Coordination Group approved phasing out of Project Airbridge, with the final flight landing in the United States on June 30. Project Airbridge will remain an option to expedite deliveries of medical items should the United States have a future emergent need for critical PPE due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

FEMA continues to source and procure testing material – specifically, testing swabs and transport media – to support the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Administration’s Testing Blueprint. As of July 1, FEMA has procured and delivered over 33 million swabs and 24.3 million units of media. The FEMA-sourced material began shipping in early May to states, territories, and tribes for a limited duration to help increase testing capacity in support of individualized state, territorial, and tribal plans and distribution strategies.

Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC)

In an effort to keep staff and students informed of COVID-19 cases, FLETC shared updated COVID-19 information for the previous week. Beginning on June 29, FLETC will send out an update every Monday.

On June 24, representatives from the participating organizations toured the FLETC Glynco Dining Hall to see firsthand the new safety protocols and social distancing placards in place to ensure the safety of students while dining.

Science and Technology (S&T)

On June 30, Science and Technology updated its Master Question List (MQL) a compilation of available research on operationally relevant questions to aid decision makers in the COVID-19 response. The MQL is a quick-reference guide covering what is known about the virus, what additional information is needed, and who may be working to address these fundamental questions. New entries include references of work showing hospitalization rates in Native American, Hispanic, and Black populations are 4-5 times higher than those in non-Hispanic White populations. Another study found asymptomatic and mildly ill patients take less time to test negative for COVID-19 than severely ill patients. Additionally, a large meta-analysis estimates the median incubation period for COVID-19 as 5.8 days, and a biotechnology tool, CRISPER-Cas12a, is being used to develop fluorescence-based COVID-19 diagnostic tests. To date, access of MQL has exceeded 46,000 views.

On July 1, the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center published its third peer-reviewed research paper resulting from ongoing DHS S&T funded SARS-CoV-2 research, with mSphere titled “Increasing Temperature and Relative Humidity Accelerates Inactivation of SARS-CoV-2 on Surfaces.” This research highlights the importance of evaluating the virus in clinically relevant matrices dried on nonporous surfaces to assess effects of relative humidity, temperature, and droplet size on the stability of the virus.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Between June 28 and July 4, TSA screened more than 4,336,033 passengers, who have all reached their destinations safely. TSA officers are required to wear facial protection while on duty at the checkpoint and the agency continues to follow CDC guidance to protect Americans, its workers, and the nation’s transportation system, in support of air travel and all other modes of transportation.

TSA Administrator Pekoske launched the agency’s “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.” campaign which outlines significant airport checkpoint modifications implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19, comply with CDC guidelines, and support healthy and secure summer travel. As part of the campaign, TSA released a video to help guide travelers through all the changes they can expect to see at TSA checkpoints.

United States Coast Guard (USCG)

As of July 4, 2020, the USCG is tracking 66 cruise ships moored, at anchor, or underway in vicinity of a U.S. port, or with potential to arrive in a US port, with 18,271 crewmembers. This includes an estimated 246 American Citizens crewmembers dispersed among 37 vessels. The Coast Guard is working with the CDC based on its extension of the No Sail Order for cruise ships, which permits the off-loading of crewmembers following submission of a plan to the CDC.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

ICE’s Operation Stolen Promise (OSP) targets fraudulent activity stemming from the pandemic. The initiative combines ICE’s Homeland Security Investigation’s (HSI) expertise in global trade investigations, financial fraud, and cyber investigations with robust private and public partnerships to disrupt and dismantle this criminal activity and strengthen global supply-chain security. As of July 2, as part of OSP, the agency has made 37 criminal arrests, analyzed 45,581 COVID-19-related domains, seized more than $5,496,009 million in illicit proceeds, disrupted 41 instances of illicit activity, sent 1,132 leads to domestic and international field offices, executed 60 search warrants and made 820 COVID-19-related seizures to include prohibited test kits and pharmaceuticals, counterfeit masks and more. COVID-19-related seizures include prohibited test kits and pharmaceuticals, counterfeit masks and more.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

USCIS announced on July 1 that it is extending its deadline for applicants responding to requests for evidence, continuations to request evidence, notices of intent to deny, notices of intent to revoke, notices of intent to rescind and notices of intent to terminate regional investment centers, and filing date requirements for Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion. Applicants and petitioners now have an additional 60 calendar days after the deadline listed in agency requests, notices, or decisions dated between March 1 and September 11 to respond before USCIS takes any action.

As of June 30, CBP had referred 391,509 travelers at the 15 funneling airports to DHS CWMD for enhanced health screening since February 2.

USCIS celebrated the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our great country by hosting naturalization ceremonies across the United States from July 1 through July 7. Despite the pandemic, USCIS continues to welcome new citizens, demonstrating American resiliency and the importance of our independence. The ceremonies incorporate social distancing and other safety precautions that protect the health and safety of applicants and USCIS staff. USCIS has naturalized approximately 64,500 new citizens over the past month and anticipates completing nearly all postponed administrative naturalization ceremonies by the end of July. On June 29, Acting Deputy Secretary Cuccinelli administered the oath to 20 new U.S. citizens, including Mr. Janis Shinwari, who served as a translator for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, saving the lives of five Americans. On July 2, Vice President Pence, Department of Transportation Secretary Chao, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Wolf, Acting Deputy Secretary Cuccinelli, and USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow welcomed new U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the White House.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

As of June 30, CBP had referred 391,509 travelers at the 15 funneling airports to DHS CWMD for enhanced health screening since February 2.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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