Weekly Update: DHS Response to COVID-19

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its components have provided their weekly update to report on measures taken to protect the public from and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the United States.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), for example, is expanding its team thanks to CARES Act funding.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a noticeable shift in our nation’s cyber risk,” said CISA Director Christopher Krebs. “At CISA, we’ve changed our posture to reflect this new risk environment. For example, with more Americans working and learning at home, we’ve developed a number of resources that both individuals and organizations can use to improve their cybersecurity.  As malicious cyber actors continue to target organizations involved in the COVID-19 response, including vaccine research and development, we’ve issued joint alerts with our international partners and stand ready to support incident response. And with the 2020 election quickly approaching, we’re working with election state and local officials to better understand and manage risks associated with changes in the way many Americans will vote this fall.  This is a big undertaking, so we’re also strengthening our team at CISA, bringing top cybersecurity experts on board to support the response to COVID-19 threats.  We all have a role to play here, and CISA will continue to do our part, working with our partners across government and industry as the nation responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On July 22, CISA released two guides to support state and local election officials as they shift toward voting environments that are different than Americans are used to. The Cyber Incident Detection and Notification Planning Guide for election security helps jurisdictions effectively recognize and respond to potential cyber incidents, and the Innovative Practices and New Solutions Guide shares ideas and practices for election administrators to consider. 

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA continues to lead the operational coordination for the federal interagency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July 23, there are over 32,600 federal personnel deployed across the country from FEMA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Defense (DOD) and National Guard to support state, local, tribal and territorial COVID-19 response efforts. FEMA and its interagency partners are tailoring staffing and resources across agencies, to ensure they can provide support when and where it’s needed most.

As of July 25, FEMA has obligated $8.7 billion in support of COVID-19 efforts, including funding for PPE, temporary medical facilities, Title 32 National Guard troops, Crisis Counseling, Public Assistance Category B Emergency Protective Measures and other critical commodities. As of July 26, FEMA and HHS have coordinated the delivery of 105.1 million N95 respirators, 159.3 million surgical masks, 16.5 million face shields, 139.4 million gloves, 68.4 million surgical gowns and 6.2 million coveralls.

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 25, FEMA has procured and delivered more than 41.7 million swabs and 32.8 million units of media. The FEMA-sourced material will be provided to states, territories, and tribes for a limited duration to help increase testing capacity in support of their individualized plans.

On July 22, FEMA completed the second shipment of all PPE except face shields to 15,440 nursing homes. Face shields are currently in the delivery process and will reach all nursing homes over the next three weeks. To date, FEMA has shipped over 30,200 packages of medical supplies to nursing homes in 53 states and territories. FEMA coordinated two shipments totaling a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment to all 15,440 Medicaid and Medicare-certified nursing homes to supplement existing efforts to provide equipment to nursing homes.

As of July 26, 23,618 National Guard troops have activated in T-32 duty status and 302 troops have activated in State Active Duty status to help with testing and other response efforts. To date, President Trump has approved 50 National Guard requests for federal support for the use of National Guard personnel in a Title 32 duty status through August 21. For those states and territories that are approved under these criteria, FEMA executed a fully reimbursable mission assignment to DOD, including reimbursement for pay and allowances of National Guard personnel serving in a Title 32 duty status in fulfillment of the FEMA mission assignment.

Science and Technology (S&T)

On July 22, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate updated its Master Question List (MQL), and does so weekly to compile available research on operationally-relevant questions to aid decision makers in the COVID-19 response. New entries include the information that respirator decontamination methods appear to maintain filtration efficiency after repeated decontamination cycles. According to 3M, several decontamination methods, including vaporous hydrogen peroxide, moist heat, and UVC, are capable of decontaminating N95 respirators for 10-20 cycles without loss of fit or filtration efficiency. 

Meanwhile, research reported in Aging Medicine suggests there is evidence that younger and older individuals have longer COVID-19 incubation periods, creating a U-shaped relationship between incubation period length and patient age. 

The Lancet reported that a randomized clinical trial of remdesivir found no significant clinical benefits, though the trial ended early and there were differences in the treatment vs. placebo patient populations. 

And a study published in Science surmised that undetected cases can lead to elevated risk of re-emergence after restrictions are lifted, highlighting the need for robust testing strategies.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Between July 19 and July 25, TSA screened more than 4,622,736 passengers, who have all reached their destinations safely. TSA officers are required to wear facial protection and gloves 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.

On July 22, TSA Administrator Pekoske visited Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) in Georgia to thank TSA employees for their hard work and dedication during the pandemic. He hosted an all-employee town hall from ATL and spotlighted 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.

United States Coast Guard (USCG)

As of July 24, the USCG is tracking 65 cruise ships moored, at anchor, or underway in vicinity of a U.S. port, or with potential to arrive in a U.S. port, with 14,123 crewmembers. This includes an estimated 209 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.”

As of July 24nd, the USCG has recalled and deployed 356 Reservists in support of COVID-19 operations. They are activated to serve in numerous types of roles, including work in IT support, medical clinics, PPE warehouses, command centers and other incident management roles, notably assisting federal partners such as HHS, and supporting state emergency operations centers on behalf of FEMA. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

ICE’s Operation Stolen Promise (OSP) is continuing to target fraudulent activity stemming from the pandemic. As of July 23, as part of OSP, the agency has made 53 criminal arrests, analyzed 50,848 COVID-19-related domains, seized more than $7,025,343 million in illicit proceeds, disrupted 42 instances of illicit activity, sent 1,205 leads to domestic and international field offices, executed 75 search warrants and made 911 COVID-19-related seizures to include prohibited test kits and pharmaceuticals, counterfeit masks and more.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

On July 23rd, USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow delivered congratulatory remarks to new U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony in Philadelphia. His remarks were livestreamed at 21 field offices across the nation conducting ceremonies for 211 candidates. Naturalization ceremonies now incorporate social distancing and other safety precautions that protect the health and safety of applicants and USCIS staff. Since resuming in-person services on June 4, USCIS has naturalized approximately 100,000 new citizens over the past month and anticipates completing nearly all postponed administrative naturalization ceremonies by the end of July. 

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

As of July 25, CBP had referred 487,705 travelers at the 15 funneling airports to the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office for enhanced health screening.

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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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