American Oversight’s Covid-19 Oversight Hub provides news and policy resources to help you keep track of investigations into the government’s pandemic response. The project brings together a public documents database, an oversight tracker of important ongoing investigations and litigation, regular news updates, and deeper dives into key issues.
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our bi-weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.
- Thurs., Oct. 7: The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing examining barriers to accessing telehealth in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The State of the Pandemic
The country hit another somber milestone last week: According to new data from Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. has already seen more deaths from Covid-19 this year than it did in 2020, when 352,000 people died. Despite the widespread availability of vaccines, more than 360,000 deaths have been reported since the beginning of 2021, with the total number of U.S. deaths from Covid-19 now at more than 714,000. Daily cases across the country have recently been on the decline, while the number of daily deaths has remained steady over the past two weeks and community transmission is still high in the majority of states and localities.
Vaccines and Treatments
- Pfizer has formally asked the Food and Drug Administration to approve emergency authorization of its vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
- On Oct. 14 and 15, an FDA advisory panel will consider authorizing booster shots for both the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines.
- Merck is seeking FDA approval for an antiviral pill that it says could reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19 by 50 percent.
In the States
- California will be the first state in the nation to require Covid-19 vaccines for all schoolchildren, but some state lawmakers have expressed concern over a loophole that would allow parents to opt out based on “personal belief.”
- A vaccine mandate in New York required home health aides to receive shots by Oct. 7. About 34,000 workers are estimated to have missed the vaccination deadline, making them ineligible to work.
- Florida’s Covid-19 test positivity rate dropped below 5 percent for the first time since July 2, a hopeful sign following months in which the state led the country in cases and deaths.
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Monday banning all state entities, including private businesses, from enforcing vaccine mandates on workers.
Other recent headlines:
- As coronavirus cases mount and vaccine mandates spread, holdouts plague police and fire departments (Washington Post)
- Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops have not yet complied with vaccine mandate as deadlines near (Washington Post)
- Los Angeles adopts Covid vaccine mandate for indoor venues (New York Times)
- Prisons, border wall: How GOP is looking to use Covid money (Associated Press)
Children Losing Caregivers
A new study estimates that 140,000 U.S. children, or 1 out of 500 children in the U.S., lost a parent or primary caregiver to Covid-19 from March 2020 to June 2021. Among those children, 32 percent were Hispanic and 26 percent were Black, underscoring the disproportionate impact of the pandemic along race lines.
House CARES Act Investigation
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis sent a letter to the National Archives requesting records related to a large CARES Act loan provided to the trucking company Yellow Corporation. The subcommittee is investigating whether the Trump White House improperly intervened to help approve the loan — part of a program for businesses deemed critical to national security — despite indications that the company was not a suitable recipient. The subcommittee’s letter presented new evidence of White House officials’ involvement and cites supporting documents obtained by American Oversight that reveal discussions with top Treasury officials.
Corporations and Covid-19
A new report from BailoutWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity found that 16 utility companies disconnected power during the pandemic to nearly 1 million households whose residents could not pay for services. The report examines how utility companies used political influence to receive $1.25 billion in taxpayer money as a pandemic-related cushion, while still continuing harmful shutoffs.
A recent ProPublica analysis found that, despite the Paycheck Protection Program being intended for small businesses, at least 120 publicly traded companies received PPP loans of more than $500,000 while increasing their revenues last year — and have had those loans forgiven. According to ProPublica’s analysis, at least $250 million of the PPP program’s $800 billion went to publicly traded companies. And that doesn’t include the billions of dollars that went to firms backed by private equity, whose finances are not publicly disclosed.
In the Documents: Covid and Cruise Lines
American Oversight obtained more emails that shed light on the cruise industry’s response to the pandemic. The records include a document from December 2020 on how the Cruise Lines International Association planned to avoid the spread of Covid-19 on its ships while continuing to operate. The document states that the guidelines were “crafted so as to not conflict in any way with CDC’s current or future requirements” and were intended for “areas where governments have not established their own requirements.”
In another email, Norwegian Cruise Lines President Frank Del Rio expressed frustration with the CDC’s new travel warning system, which in November 2020 was changed from a three-point scale to a four-point scale, with cruise ships identified as risk level 4. On Nov. 3, Del Rio complained that the CDC “issue[d] the new travel warning targeting the cruise industry” and accused the CDC of “kicking us while we’re down.”
- The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is seeking input from hospitals, health care facilities, state and local governments, first responders, and other stakeholders who had difficulty obtaining authentic personal protective equipment.
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter asking the Government Accountability Office to review how interagency cooperation could help close the digital divide, noting that the pandemic highlighted the importance of high-speed broadband access.
- The Congressional Oversight Commission published its 17th report, which summarized outstanding amounts of credit extended by each of the emergency lending facilities established by the Federal Reserve that received CARES Act funds.
- A group of House and Senate Democrats sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking that the USDA work with independent family farmers and ranchers to help meet food supply challenges for school districts.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General conducted a health care inspection to assess allegations that facility leaders failed to mitigate risk and manage a Covid-19 outbreak at a community living center in Illinois. The report found a number of instances of staff having failed to follow health guidelines.
- The VA’s inspector general also conducted a health care inspection regarding the impact of Covid-19 on care provided to a patient at a facility in North Carolina. The investigation determined that the primary care provider and dietitians did not provide quality care to the patient, who later died at another facility.
- The GAO examined how the pandemic disrupted operations of three federal agencies that rely on revenues generated from dedicated user fees: the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Park Service, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The report found a 39 percent drop in these revenues during fiscal year 2020.
- The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general found that the pandemic negatively impacted the ability of EPA Regions 9 and 10 — the Pacific Southwest and Pacific Northwest — to provide oversight for public water systems delivering safe drinking water to people in Indian Country.
- The Department of Agriculture inspector general released a report tracking and analyzing CARES Act loans to rural businesses, including agribusiness.
CARES Act Funding
- In a review of the Office of Justice Programs’ handling of CARES Act funding, the Justice Department’s inspector general noted that the office acted quickly to distribute funds appropriately, but as of March 31, 2021, funding recipients reported spending or obligated only 40 percent of the total amount awarded.
- The GAO found that the CARES Act funds received by the Department of Housing and Urban Development led to increased support for certain programs — in particular, the Emergency Solutions Grant program for homelessness assistance.
- The Small Business Administration’s inspector general assessed the agency’s approval and disbursement of Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grants, finding that SBA provided $4.5 billion more in grants to sole proprietors and independent contractors than they were entitled to receive.
The Pandemic and Federal Workers
- BOP Staff Survey on Covid-19 Response: The DOJ inspector general surveyed Bureau of Prisons employees in February 2021 about the agency’s management of its coronavirus response. While the majority of respondents rated the BOP’s overall response as effective or somewhat effective, many also reported increased workplace stress and anxiety as well as having to perform tasks outside of regular job duties. At the time, 9 percent of staff were unsure whether they’d get vaccinated, and 18 percent reported that they did not plan to get vaccinated. Just over half of BOP staff are vaccinated, and the rest now face a Nov. 22 deadline to comply with the federal vaccine mandate.
- Remote Work and Cybersecurity Risks: The GAO reviewed the technology infrastructure of 12 agencies during the pandemic and found that agencies were successfully able to increase bandwidth to handle more remote work. GAO found areas for improvement in terms of documentation and mitigating security weaknesses for some agencies.