Weekly Update: DHS Response to COVID-19

U.S. NEWS – For months, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has worked hand in hand with state, local, and private sector partners to implement a Whole-of-America approach to combating COVID-19. That work continues as DHS and its committed workforce are dedicated to ensuring our elections are secure during a pandemic environment. 

“Securing our elections remains top of mind for the entire election community – from CISA and our federal partners, to state and local election officials, and our private sector partners – we are better coordinated and more prepared than ever before, said CISA Director Christopher Krebs. Elections will look a lot different this year as Americans vote amid a pandemic. But election officials have prepared and have plans to keep voters and poll workers safe, all while ensuring American voters decide American elections. Voters play a critical role in the resiliency of our elections, and CISA encourages people to be a ‘3-P voter,’ meaning be prepared, participate and patient. Make a plan today for how you’re going to vote, sign up to be a poll worker if you’re healthy and able, and remember that everything may take a little longer this year, including reporting the results. Working together we can ensure the 2020 elections are the most secure and resilient in modern history.” 

Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency (CISA)

Providing Resources to Emergency Communications Partners. On September 24th, CISA released the Emergency Communications Support to Alternate Care Facilities Guideline. The best-practices guide is meant for those establishing Alternate Care Sites (ACS) to consider communications best practices gleaned from public safety. Although the target audience is the state, local, tribal, and territorial public safety and public health communities, this document may also help to inform planning documents implemented to support communications when coordinating with national and federal entities, such as the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the National Guard.  

Continued Engagement with Partners. On September 22nd, Senior Cybersecurity Advisor Matthew Masterson provided remarks on CISA’s continued work with election officials to strengthen election security at The McCrary Institute’s “Election Security Amid COVID-19” event.  

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Providing Grants to States for Supplemental Lost Wages Payments. To ease the economic burden for those struggling with lost wages due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, President Trump authorized FEMA to expend up to $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund for lost wage payments. As of September 28th, Administrator Gaynor has approved 49 states, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and the District of Columbia for FEMA grants under this unprecedented program. FEMA’s grant funding will allow the approved states to provide those unemployed due to COVID-19 $300 or 400 per week on top of their regular unemployment benefit. As of September 28th, FEMA has awarded more than $41.6 Billion in support of Lost Wages supplemental assistance. All approved grant applicants receive an initial obligation of three weeks of funding, with additional disbursements made on a weekly basis.

Providing Full Federal Reimbursement for States’ National Guard Forces. On August 3rd, President Trump granted an extension for the use of the National Guard under Federal Title 32 orders to respond to COVID-19 until December 31, 2020. As of September 28th, 16,533 National Guard troops have activated in T-32 duty status and 310 troops have activated in State Active Duty status to help with testing and other response efforts. To date, President Trump has approved 49 National Guard requests for federal support for the use of National Guard personnel in a Title 32 duty status through December 31. For those states and territories that are approved under these criteria, FEMA executed a fully reimbursable mission assignment to the Department of Defense, including reimbursement for pay and allowances ofNational Guard personnel serving in a Title 32 duty status in fulfillment of the FEMA mission assignment.

Coordinating Deployment of Federal Personnel to Support States’ Efforts. FEMA continues to lead the operational coordination for the federal interagency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of September 28th, there are over 19,579 federal personnel deployed across the country from FEMA, HHS, CDC, DoD, National Guard, and VA to support state, local, tribal and territorial COVID-19 response efforts. FEMA and our interagency partners are constantly tailoring staffing and resources across agencies, ensuring we can provide support when and where it’s needed most.

Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC)

Graduating the next generation of law enforcement: FLETC continues to successfully implement testing, identification, isolation and containment protocols in managing the COVID-19 virus.  As of September 25, more than 3,300 officers and agents have successfully graduated and are now in the field performing work that is critical to protect the homeland since training was restarted on June 17. There are currently 2,068 students attending in-residence training at Glynco, Charleston, and Artesia training delivery points, with an additional 82 students attending training at the Cheltenham training delivery point. Their graduation in the coming months and the continual influx of new students ensures that our federal law enforcement partners receive the trained personnel they need to help keep our nation secure. In addition, more than 7,100 officers and agents from federal, state, local, and tribal have taken part in FLETC online training, including nearly 4,200 participants for the Integrated Use of Force series. 

Science and Technology (S&T)

Driving Evidence-Based Policymaking. On September 23the 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. 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: 

Clusters of cases arising from social settings are larger than those occurring in households. 

  • Adam, D. C.; Wu, P.; Wong, J. Y.; Lau, E. H. Y.; Tsang, T. K.; Cauchemez, S.; Leung, G. M.; Cowling, B. J., Clustering and superspreading potential of SARS-CoV-2 infections in Hong Kong. Nature Medicine 2020.
  •  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-1092-0  

Low viral loads can lead to false negative RT-PCR tests, and viral loads are lower in late stage infections as well as at the end of a given day. 

  • Liu, M.; Li, Q.; Zhou, J.; Ai, W.; Zheng, X.; Zeng, J.; Liu, Y.; Xiang, X.; Guo, R.; Li, X.; Wu, X.; Xu, H.; Jiang, L.; Zhang, H.; Chen, J.; Tian, L.; Luo, J.; Luo, C., Value of swab types and collection time on SARS-COV-2 detection using RT-PCR assay. Journal of Virological Methods 2020, 286,113974. 
  • http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166093420302263 

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Keeping Americans Safe While Ensuring Continuity of U.S. Travel and Commerce. Between Sept. 20th through Sept 26th, TSA screened more than 5,088,366 passengers, who have all reached their destinations safely. TSA officers are required to wear facial protection and gloves while on duty at the checkpoint. In support of air travel and all other modes of transportation, the agency continues to follow CDC guidance to protect Americans, its workers, and the nation’s transportation system. TSA continues to promote its “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure” campaign which outlines significant airport checkpoint modifications, including new technologies that reduce or eliminate physical contact, implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19, comply with CDC guidelines, and promote healthy and secure summer travel. 

Ready to Ensure Safety During the Summer Travel Period. On September 21, TSA announced the rollout of 3D checkpoint scanner technology at Albany International Airport. The new technology provides critical explosives detection capabilities at the checkpoint.  In addition, the technology improves the capability for TSA officers to determine whether an item inside a carry-on bag is a possible threat without having to open up the bag, thereby reducing physical contact between the TSA screening officer and the passenger’s property.  On September 22, TSA highlighted features at a new terminal opened up at Salt Lake City Airport to include Automated Security Lanes (ASLs) and advanced imaging technologies that significantly reduce or eliminate physical contact between the TSA officer and the passenger’s property.   

United States Coast Guard (USCG)

Monitoring Vessels that Pose a Risk to Public Health. As of September 23rd, the USCG is tracking 59 cruise ships moored, at anchor, or underway in vicinity of a U.S. port, or with potential to arrive in a US port, with approximately 9,410 crewmembers. This includes an estimated 189 American Citizens crewmembers dispersed among 33 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. 

Reservists. As of September 24th, the USCG has recalled and deployed 433 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. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

CBP Continues to Keep America Safe. On September 23, CBP and the White House made a joint announcement regarding ongoing operations to target and intercept illicit good shipped from China. Operation Mega Flex has yielded more than 4,200 seizures of illicit goods and 2,400 agriculture violations over the past 15 months. The seizures included counterfeit goods, illegal narcotics, fake identity documents, prohibited plant and animal products, and other items that threaten the health and safety of consumers, undermine the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, and put U.S. agriculture and the environment at risk. 

United States Secret Service (USSS)

Monitoring Unemployment Fraud Related to COVID-19. On September 22, the United States Secret Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the seizure of $140,490 in ongoing effort to combat COVID-19 fraud schemes. As of September 25, over $325,600 in COVID-19 related fraud proceeds have been recovered.  Topics: CybersecurityElection SecurityScience and TechnologyTransportation Security Keywords: Coronavirus (COVID-19)Department of Homeland Security (DHS)Election Security


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