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.
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This Week’s Congressional Hearings
- Tues., Feb. 23: The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing about expanding the availability of Covid-19 vaccines. Representatives of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca will testify.
- Wed., Feb. 24: The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing in which public health officials will offer perspectives on the past year of the pandemic.
- Wed., Feb. 24: The House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing to discuss existing U.S. public health infrastructure, and will feature witnesses from health agencies in Virginia, Washington, Connecticut, and Idaho.
- Thurs., Feb. 25: The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the Department of Defense’s role in the Covid-19 response. Gen. Gustave Perna, a top Operation Warp Speed official, will be among the witnesses.
A Tragic Milestone
As of Sunday, more than 500,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, a death toll that accounts for more than one-fifth of worldwide deaths. National Institutes of Health Director Frances Collins spoke about how the politicization of and resistance to mask-wearing during the pandemic may have led to the deaths of “tens of thousands” of Americans. And ProPublica recently reported that many Americans have died while waiting for key life-saving treatments that are being rationed in part because of poor regional coordination among hospitals.
While daily tallies of new cases remain high, Covid-19 infection numbers have been dropping consistently across the United States, indicating the country has overcome the winter surge that claimed thousands of lives. While experts have pointed to multiple potential reasons for why trends are changing, federal officials have continued to urge Americans to maintain social distancing, wear masks, and avoid crowded spaces.
In the States
- Last week’s winter storms across Texas and the Midwest delayed shipments of 6 million Covid-19 vaccine doses across the country. On Sunday, Biden administration officials reported that 2 million of these doses had been successfully delivered, and projected that the other shipments would be completed this week.
- In Manatee County, Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis initiated a vaccine drive for residents of the county’s two richest ZIP codes, including a planned community that has ties to the Uihlein family, wealthy Republican donors who contributed nearly $1 million to the Friends of Ron DeSantis political committee in recent years. When asked about the decision, DeSantis said, “If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it.” The emails, reported on by the Bradenton Herald, also showed that a Manatee County commissioner used her position to jump the line and get vaccinated.
- According to CDC data, there were more than 1,500 reported cases of coronavirus variants across the U.S. as of Feb. 18. The B117 strain is the most common variant, and has been reported in 41 states and Washington, D.C. Last week, health officials in Michigan found 90 cases of the B117 strain in a state prison, 88 of which were among incarcerated people.
Vaccine Distribution Picks Up
The New York Times reported that while federal officials have estimated that up to 6 million vaccine doses have been sitting unused, states are now moving to free them up. States initially held back distribution of these doses because of over-allocation to long-term care facilities and the need to build a reserve for second-round inoculations, but as vaccine supply chains improve, more and more states have opted to stop keeping the doses in storage. Last week, the White House also announced that states can expect a boost in vaccine supply, from 11 million weekly doses to 13.5 million.
Trump Administration Political Interference
In December 2020, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told congressional investigators that then-CDC Director Robert Redfield instructed staff to delete an email showing a Trump political appointee interfering in the work of career scientists. We immediately called on the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that the email and other records were preserved as required by federal law. Last week, the CDC released a copy of the email to us, which had been first published by Politico.
The political appointee in question was Paul Alexander, a scientific adviser to Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS. In the email, Alexander demanded an “immediate stop” on all of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports and claimed that the CDC was writing “hit pieces on the administration.” He further said, “Nothing to go out unless I read and agree with the findings … and I tweak it to ensure it is fair and balanced and ‘complete.’”
Scientists Ask CDC to Amend Guidelines
A group of American scientists wrote to top administration officials last week, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, asking that the CDC fully address the airborne nature of Covid-19 transmission. The letter described the CDC’s current descriptions of the virus’ transmission as “outdated and confusing.” The scientists also said that the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must recommend and require the use of N95 respirator masks for all frontline workers.
New CDC Research
- In a new study, CDC researchers found a correlation between workplace policies and increased use of personal protective equipment by non-health care employees. Survey data showed that almost half of workers who were not required to use PPE did so when PPE was provided by their employer. Workers were also most likely to use PPE if required to do so by employers.
- A CDC report found that life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by an entire year in the first half of 2020. Life expectancy changes also widened racial inequities, as Black and Hispanic males faced larger drops in life expectancy, of 3 and 2.4 years respectively.
The Latest in Federal Pandemic Oversight
- The Department of Defense Inspector General conducted an evaluation to determine whether Armed Forces Retirement Home officials protected residents, staff, and health care personnel from Covid-19 exposure, in accordance with federal health and safety guidance. The report found that AFRH officials complied with most CDC guidance, but they did not formalize plans for testing all staff and residents or for managing quarantine units.
- The Government Accountability Office released a health care “capsule” report summarizing information from a number of GAO reports that examined how the federal government and states used Medicaid in times of crises, including during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Vaccinating Food Workers: Ten Senate Democrats urged White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients to work with states, territories, American Indian tribes, and other jurisdictions to facilitate and ensure the swift vaccination of farm and food chain workers.
- Ongoing Mail Delays: 34 Senate Democrats wrote to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy seeking answers to questions regarding ongoing mail delays, which have compromised service for those who depend on the mail for medications and other critical needs during the pandemic.
- Exclusion in Unemployment Assistance: Five Senate Democrats requested that Acting Labor Secretary Al Stewart review and consider revising guidance issued on Jan. 8, 2021, that said workers with reduced hours are not eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The senators argued that people who have had their hours reduced or who are temporarily laid off when their employer reduces business operations because of the pandemic are covered under PUA.