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 weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.
- Tues., May 11: The Senate HELP Committee will hold a hearing on the federal pandemic response. Dr. Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and HHS Chief Science Officer David Kessler will testify.
- Wed., May 12: The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing about improving mental health and addiction services in the wake of the pandemic. Health officials from North Carolina and Nevada will testify.
- Wed., May 12: The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the “military transition during the Covid-19 pandemic.” Also on Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing reviewing claims processing for disabled veterans during and after the pandemic.
- Wed., May 12: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the international pandemic response. Gayle Smith, the State Department’s global Covid-19 response coordinator, and Jeremy Konyndyk, the executive director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Covid-19 Task Force, will testify.
Last week, the CDC updated online guidance that emphasized that people can contract Covid-19 through aerosolized particles carrying the virus, and that those particles can reach those who are more than 6 feet away from the infected person. Previously, the agency’s guidance stated that most infections were acquired through “close contact, not airborne transmission.” Experts have said that earlier recognition of the airborne nature of transmission could have led to more effective mitigation measures and targeted public health policies.
Vaccines vs. Variants
Last week, the U.S. government agreed to support a controversial proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for vaccines, allowing the technology behind successful vaccine candidates to be shared across the world. Advocates of the proposal have said it will help increase global vaccine supply as coronavirus variants continue to spread in India and Brazil.
In preliminary studies, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have both proved effective against some variants. Two studies showed that the Pfizer vaccine is more than 95 percent effective at protecting against severe disease or death caused by the B117 variant, which was first identified in the U.K., and the B1351, first identified in South Africa. Moderna has also tested a booster shot that was effective against B1351 and the P1 variant, which was first found in Brazil.
New Vaccine Approvals Likely Ahead
Last Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech submitted their coronavirus vaccine to be fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In December 2020, the company’s vaccine was the first to be granted emergency use authorization, for which the company had provided two months of data, as compared with the six months that are required for full approval. Gaining full approval will allow Pfizer to market the vaccines, and may make it easier for businesses and employers to decide whether to mandate vaccinations. And this week, the FDA is set to allow emergency use of Pfizer’s vaccine for those who are 12 to 15 years old.
By the Numbers
- A new investigation by Kaiser Health News found that as of late March, CVS and Walgreens had wasted more than 128,000 vaccine doses, more than most states combined. In addition, KHN noted that data on vaccine waste is incomplete and inconsistent, making it difficult to identify where distribution adjustments are needed.
- A new study estimated that deaths caused by Covid-19 have been widely undercounted, with the global death toll of the disease nearing 7 million — more than double the reported 3.24 million. The study estimated that in the U.S., more than 900,000 people have died because of the virus.
In the States
- Last week, Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings threatened to take its ships elsewhere after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation banning businesses from requiring customers to provide proof of vaccination, a key part of many cruise lines’ reopening plans. DeSantis also issued an executive order suspending local government pandemic-related restrictions, including mask mandates.
- As vaccinations slow, states have adopted strategies to incentivize residents to get shots. In Maryland, state employees who get vaccinated will receive $100. In West Virginia, any resident between the age of 16 and 35 will receive a $100 savings bond. And in New Jersey, any resident who gets their first vaccine dose in May can take their vaccination card to select breweries to receive a free beer.
Report: Violations of ICE Detention Standards in Illinois
The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General (OIG) conducted an unannounced, remote inspection of Pulaski County Detention Center in Illinois, which houses detained immigrants, and identified violations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention standards that threatened the health, safety, and rights of detained individuals. The OIG found that the facility did not consistently enforce precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing, which likely contributed to Covid-19 transmission in the facility. Routine dental services at the facility were backlogged because of the pandemic, and as a result, five immigrants requiring annual dental services had to wait to receive dental screenings.
- Identity Theft in the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program: The Small Business Administration Inspector General issued a report evaluating SBA’s handling of identity theft complaints in the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. At the time of the review, SBA had not provided status updates to those reporting identity theft, even though some complainants had contacted SBA multiple times.
- EPA Handling of CARES Act Appropriations: The Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General documented and assessed the internal controls that the EPA implemented to mitigate risks of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement over CARES Act appropriations. The report noted that the EPA Office of the Chief Financial Officer did not conduct an agency-wide risk assessment of CARES Act funding, thus increasing the risk of fraud and waste, and did not comply with CARES Act reporting requirements.
- Federal Reserve Lending Programs: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell seeking documents related to the Fed’s implementation of the Main Street Lending Program and the Municipal Liquidity Facility. The subcommittee is investigating whether these programs reduce unemployment and is seeking information about any additional steps the Fed is taking to improve the country’s economic recovery.
- Covid-19 Outbreaks in Correctional Facilities: Nine senators wrote to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra asking him to use new funding authorized in the American Rescue Plan Act to help manage coronavirus outbreaks in federal, state, and local correctional facilities. The senators asked HHS to provide weekly Covid-19 testing for incarcerated individuals and correctional staff; to expand vaccine access to these populations; and to require federal, state, and local correctional facilities to collect and publicize detailed demographic data on testing and vaccinations.
- Funding for Schools: Five Senate Democrats urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to include additional long-term funding for elementary and secondary schools in the next Covid-19 relief package.