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., March 9: The House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing to discuss the Food and Drug Administration’s drug inspections programs. An official from the Government Accountability Office will testify about concerns surrounding the FDA’s inspection activities during the pandemic.
Tues., March 9: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing examining the Covid-19 response, with medical professionals testifying.
Wed., March 10: The House Small Business Committee will hold a hearing to discuss the Paycheck Protection Program. The hearing will provide an overview of the PPP and an update on the current state of the loans and loan forgiveness.
Wed., March 10: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing to discuss international development one year into the Covid-19 pandemic.
One Year of Covid-19 Oversight
On Feb. 28, 2020, American Oversight filed our first coronavirus-related Freedom of Information Act request. Since then, we have submitted more than 1,000 records requests as we investigate the federal and state responses to a pandemic that has taken more than half a million American lives. Check out our Covid-19 timeline to learn more about our findings and our efforts to hold government officials accountable, from the Trump administration’s political interference at science agencies to the pandemic’s impact on vulnerable populations.
In the States
- The Miami Herald reported that in January, residents of a wealthy gated community in Florida received access to vaccines at a time when much of the state’s elderly population was waiting in long lines for their shot. Meanwhile, vaccine drives held in majority-Black communities in the state have been “first-come, first-serve,” resulting in clinics serving predominantly white residents, many of whom were from different communities, thus widening the racial disparities of vaccine allocation.
- Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ended the state’s mask mandate, a decision that was made without the input of all of his medical advisers. Under the new rule, businesses will have the option to require masks. Mississippi, Iowa, Montana, and North Dakota are also dropping mask mandates to join the 11 states that never required masks in public.
- To make vaccine distribution more equitable, California said it will channel 40 percent of the state’s vaccines to low-income communities that are experiencing hardship during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The New York Times reported that last summer, top aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rewrote reports written by state health officials to remove the number of nursing home residents who had died from Covid-19. Cuomo’s office did not release the full data until earlier this year.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released long-awaited guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated, saying that they can gather indoors with those who are also fully vaccinated and that they face little risk if they visit indoors with unvaccinated members of a single household.
At the same time, vaccine distribution continues to ramp up, with major pharmaceutical companies taking steps to help manufacture the vaccines of their competitors. Last week, the White House announced an initiative with health insurers that aims to help even more elderly people get a vaccine. Under the program, private Medicare and Medicaid plans will take further steps to help high-risk patients get access, such as helping them book appointments and arranging transportation. The administration is finalizing a nationwide testing strategy that public health experts say is crucially needed to understand the spread of coronavirus variants and to move toward getting back to normal.
The Pandemic’s Impact
Since the first coronavirus vaccines were authorized in December, nearly one in five Americans has received at least one vaccine dose. But as the country begins reopening, most notably with in-person learning resuming in many areas, the pandemic’s long-term impacts are only now emerging. Across the country, thousands of students are unaccounted for as states report a decline in the number of students enrolled in public school. A recent study has estimated that approximately 3 million of the “most educationally marginalized students” may have been absent from school since the pandemic shuttered in-person learning in March 2020.
Misused Pandemic Funds
- Stat News reported that late last summer, the Trump administration took nearly $10 billion from a fund designed to support hospitals and health care providers during the pandemic and used it to fund Operation Warp Speed contracts. Officials chose to spend money directly from the fund instead of transferring it, in an attempt to circumvent congressional oversight.
- A new report details how Giti Tire USA, a South Carolina tire factory, received nearly $8 million in PPP loans meant for small businesses, despite being a subsidiary of a global company with revenues of more than $3 billion. Even with those loans, Giti Tire furloughed more than 600 workers without pay for a month, brought back only about half the workers when it reopened, and ultimately laid off many of them permanently.
The Latest in Federal Oversight
- The Department of Labor Inspector General (OIG) recommended that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration take additional steps to ensure worker safety during the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, OSHA has reduced the number of on-site inspections it performs, but has also received an influx of workplace safety complaints. Currently, OSHA’s pandemic-related safety guidance is not enforceable, so OIG recommended that OSHA consider issuing Covid-19 specific safety rules that workers would be required to follow.
- The Government Accountability Office released its biennial report detailing a list of “high-risk” issue areas for the federal government. The GAO added to its list oversight of Covid-19 relief loans and the problems the pandemic poses to treatment and prevention of substance use disorder, which has increased during the pandemic.
- Investigation into PPP: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Acting SBA Administrator Tami Perriello, renewing its request for documents relevant to its investigation into the PPP. Thus far, the subcommittee’s investigation has found that the Trump administration issued more than $4 billion in PPP loans that may have been subject to fraud and failed to prioritize underserved communities in loan disbursements.
- Updating Respiratory Guidance: Along with the select subcommittee, the House Education and Labor, Appropriations, and Energy and Commerce Committees asked Covid-19 Pandemic Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and Acting Labor Secretary Al Stewart to update ventilation and respiratory protection guidance and standards to address aerosol transmission of Covid-19.
- Addressing Environmental Injustice During the Pandemic: Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, and Cory Booker asked Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Jane Nishida and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins to address environmental injustices that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The senators noted that Black Americans, who are more likely to be frontline workers, are also more likely to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution and chemical toxins. Another group of Senate Democrats urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to include safeguards in the upcoming Covid-19 relief package that protect Americans from losing access to utilities due to severe weather during the pandemic.