A CBP Office of Field Operation officer monitors the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) that arrived from China at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill., April 8, 2020. (Photo by Alexis Hall, FEMA REGION V)

Weekly Update: DHS Response to COVID-19

As we begin moving toward reopening the country, the Department and its components remain steadfast in their commitment to protect the safety of the American people.

“As the nation’s risk advisor, CISA is coordinating across the federal government, with our state and local partners, and with the private sector to assess COVID-19’s impact-19 on our nation’s critical infrastructure”, said CISA Director Christopher Krebs. “We’re using our partnerships and expertise to send out useful infrastructure resilience guidance, help local leaders identify and protect those workers that are essential to the continuity of critical services and the nation’s supply chain, as well as share tips on how to telework securely and avoid rising cyber scams.  CISA will continue to work with our partners to preserve the services we all rely on while slowing the spread in order to keep the American people safe.”

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

Interagency Collaboration

Prioritizing Public Health and Safety. On April 30th, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security extended the temporary postponement of Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) due to circumstances stemming from COVID-19. Hearings scheduled through and including June 1, 2020 will be rescheduled for a later date. This extension will ensure that individuals ‘have their day in court’ while also protecting the health and safety of aliens, law enforcement, immigration court professionals, and U.S. citizens.

Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD)

Enhanced Screenings at Airports. CWMD contract personnel are continuing to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with enhanced screenings for travelers through 13 specially designated airports. As of May 3rd, CWMD has processed more than 283,914 travelers for enhanced screening, including 1,506 who were referred to CDC for further medical evaluation.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Facilitating the Departure of Non-Citizens from the Country. Over the past week, CBP facilitated the departure of over 1,100 foreign nationals from the U.S., including 200 Iraqis and 900 South Africans, who arrived safely in their home countries. These repatriation efforts are performed in close coordination with foreign governments to ensure that non-citizens avoid unforeseen hardships or any potential violation of U.S. immigration law as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Stepping Up Coastal Patrols to Curb Maritime Smuggling. Border Patrol announced on April 27th that it is strengthening its presence along California’s coastline to combat against human and drug trafficking. This effort concurrently prevents any further introduction of COVID-19 into California communities.

Seizing Counterfeit Goods from Foreign Sources. Ensuring the integrity of imported goods, including personal protection equipment (PPE), is a vital function that CBP performs every day to protect the American public during the pandemic. On May 1st, CBP announced that it seized a record number of counterfeit COVID-19 tests over the past 45 days including: 62 seizures in Cincinnati containing 29,438 test kits; 11 seizures in Chicago containing 1,147 test kits; 2 seizures in Indianapolis containing 4,650 test kits; and 16 seizures in Louisville containing 187 test kits. These seizures had a domestic value of more than $600,000.

Supporting the Safe Return of U.S. Citizens Stranded Overseas. As of May 3rd, CBP, in close coordination with the State Department’s Repatriation Task Force, has facilitated the return of more than 76,000 Americans back to the U.S. from 126 countries. This interagency operation is vital to reuniting families and keeping Americans out of harm’s way.

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)

Ensuring Free-Movement of Critical Workers. On April 28th, CISA published the Situation Reporting System which provides a secure web-enabled means of reporting denied movement situations for critical infrastructure workers. For the purposes of this system, a denied movement situation occurs anytime an individual or entity believes they are considered an essential worker under the local definition and was denied the ability to move around to conduct activities the local authorities have determined are authorized.

Protecting Networks and Cloud Environments from Intrusions. On May 1st, CISA launched a dedicated telework product line intended to advise and support businesses and organizations with the surge in telework due to COVID-19. The new products include a joint CISA and National Security Agency (NSA) Telework Best Practices guide, in addition to cybersecurity considerations for use of video conferencing software and related collaboration tools.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Helping Organizations and Businesses Resume Operations. FEMA released a fact sheet on April 30th outlining measures for organizations and businesses to consider so that they are well-positioned to protect their employees and communities whenever they resume operations. The fact sheet builds upon the White House guidelines for Opening Up America by providing further recommendations for state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector stakeholders. 

Protecting Critical Workers While Reopening the Economy. FEMA is coordinating the distribution of disposable face coverings for critical infrastructure workers as part of a multi-pronged effort to re-open the U.S. economy while continuing to limit the spread of COVID-19. As of May 1st, FEMA has allocated more than 50 million facial coverings to states, tribes, and territories, with priority given to critical infrastructure sectors including emergency services, food production and distribution, and other sectors that support community lifelines.

Ensuring that Nursing Homes Have Medical Supplies. FEMA released a fact sheet on May 2nd outlining how the agency will supplement existing efforts to ensure nursing homes across the country have PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes coordinating two shipments totaling a 14-day supply of PPE to more than 15,000 Medicaid-and-Medicare-certified nursing homes based on input from the American Health Care Association.

Bolstering Response Efforts Through Foreign Partnerships. In an effort to grow the Nation’s limited medical supplies, FEMA’s Office of International Affairs is working closely with the State Department to retrieve shipments from foreign partners across the globe. Over the past week, the agency offloaded two Turkish and two Taiwanese cargo planes carrying PPE and facilitated the receipt of 50 million hydroxychloroquine tablets from India, which has been cited by the CDC as a possible treatment for COVID-19 symptoms.

Aiding Americans Who Are in Crisis. On May 2nd, FEMA announced the approval of 30 states and the District of Columbia for its Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program. The program helps fund state-provided crisis counseling services to residents struggling with stress and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. FEMA previously funded more than $6 million in crisis counseling in six other states.

Coordinating Air Flights to Address Medical Supply Shortages. FEMA continues to expedite the movement of critical supplies, including masks, respirators, gloves, goggles, and surgical gowns, from the global market to medical distributors in various locations across the U.S. This historic partnership with the private sector is named Project Air-Bridge. Between April 26th and May 2nd, 27 international flights arrived in the U.S. with critical medical supplies, bringing the total to 112 with an additional 23 scheduled or in transit. These flights deliver PPE to areas of greatest need through prioritized distributor supply chains nine times faster than movement by sea.

Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC)

Planning to Safely Resume Training. FLETC held virtual town hall meetings with its staff and 95+ participating organizations to discuss plans to safely resume training. Some of the measures the agency plans to implement include screening staff and students, resizing classes into smaller blocks, social distancing protocols, continuing enhanced cleaning and sanitation processes, lodging students in single-occupancy dorms, and more.

Preparing Students for Training Resumption: FLETC provided online refresher training for 24 agencies that had basic training students enrolled in the Criminal Investigator, Uniformed Police, and Land Management Training programs. Additionally, FLETC provided in-service training for 66 instructional staff on how to deliver curriculums to students in an online format.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Cracking Down on Fraud and Criminal Activity. On April 28th, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit in Atlantic City seized approximately 242,000 fraudulent N95 respirator masks, 900 fraudulent Tyvek protective suits, and 11 million fraudulent disposable face masks. It also seized 900 fraudulent bottles of diluted Clorox bleach in Nogales, Arizona on April 30th. These seizures are part of an interagency enforcement campaign known as Operation Stolen Promise, which was launched by ICE on April 15th to combat COVID-19-related fraud and other criminal activity.  To date, ICE has opened more than 260 investigations nationwide.

Raising Public Awareness Around Fraud and Abuse. ICE launched a dedicated “Operation Stolen Promise” web page on April 28th to provide information to the public on COVID-19-related fraud schemes. The page highlights the investigative efforts the agency is taking to counter the threat posed by individuals and criminal organizations seeking to exploit the pandemic for financial gain. It also provides facts, tips, and red flags, and guides the public on how to recognize potential fraud, protect themselves, and report tips to the authorities.

Office of Operations Coordination (OPS)

Supporting Information-Sharing Activities. On April 28th, an Operations Deputies Board (OPSDEPS) consisting of DHS senior operational leaders was convened to continue discussion and coordination on the Department’s response to COVID-19. The OPSDEPS reviewed CISA and CWMD initiatives regarding their specific efforts to combat the coronavirus and identified potential linkages to these activities for optimization.

Science and Technology (S&T)

Arming the Nation with Scientific Research. On April 27rd, the S&T Probabilistic Analysis for National Threats, Hazards, and Risks (PANTHR) program released a PANTHR COVID-19 fact sheet highlighting current research efforts overseen and executed by DHS S&T. This fact sheet includes answers to critical questions about COVID-19 and details the latest results from research conducted at S&T’s National Bioforensic Analysis and Countermeasures Center. This fact sheet will receive updates on a periodic basis as new information emerges.

Driving Evidence-Based Policymaking. On April 28th, S&T 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 to studies showing individuals becoming infectious 1-3 days prior to symptom onset and confirming the presence of COVID-19 in domestic cats.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Keeping Americans Safe While Ensuring Continuity of U.S. Travel. TSA continues to follow CDC guidance to protect its workers and the nation’s transportation system, while ensuring the freedom of movement for people and commerce will not be impeded during the pandemic. Between April 26th and May 2nd, TSA screened nearly 940,000 travelers who have all reached their destinations safely.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

Providing Flexibility to Individuals and Employers. USCIS announced on May 1st 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 July 1 to respond before USCIS takes any action.

United States Coast Guard (USCG)

Monitoring Vessels that Pose a Risk to Public Health. The Coast Guard is working non-stop to protect the health and safety of the American public while keeping U.S. supply chains open and viable. Between April 26th and May 3rd, Coast Guard tracked 76 commercial vessels that departed from a coronavirus-impacted country and scheduled to arrive at a U.S. port. In accordance with the Coast Guard’s latest Maritime Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB), which was updated on April 24th, all vessels destined for a U.S. port are required to report to the CDC any sick or deceased crew/passengers prior to arrival at a U.S. port or they’ll be denied entry into U.S. territorial waters.

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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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