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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- Wed., April 14: The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing examining the coronavirus response in Native communities.
- Wed., April 14: The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing to discuss initial pandemic response and preparedness. Former top officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Homeland Security will testify.
- Wed., April 14: The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing to examine the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to the coronavirus. Acting FEMA Administrator Robert Fenton will testify.
- Thurs., April 15: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will hold a hearing at which Dr. Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and HHS Chief Science Officer David Kessler will testify.
- Thurs., April 15: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. BOP Director Michael Carvajal will testify.
Although Covid-19 case numbers remain far below previous peaks, most states are still reporting a steady daily number. Last week, the CDC announced that most Covid-19 cases in the U.S. are now caused by the B117 variant, a more contagious strain that was first identified in Britain. CDC data indicates that other variants, including one that was first found in Brazil, are also spreading around the country.
The Pandemic’s Disproportionate Impacts
Data presented by the New York Times illustrates how the virus has disproportionately impacted those in prisons: While 9 percent of Americans have had the coronavirus, that figure jumps to 34 percent for people in U.S. prisons. And last week, JAMA Pediatrics published a new study that estimates that nearly 40,000 children in the U.S. have lost a parent to Covid-19, with Black children disproportionately affected.
In the States
- Michigan is reporting thousands of Covid-19 cases a day, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has stated she won’t issue new restrictions. Whitmer has asked the Biden administration to ramp up the state’s vaccine supply; administration officials have said that for now, they will continue allocating vaccines primarily by population.
- Last week, federal officials said the government won’t mandate that individuals show a proof of vaccination, colloquially known as a vaccine passport, to access certain activities as the country reopens. But states are adopting diverging approaches. Both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have prohibited vaccine passports, and bills banning the practice are gaining traction in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kentucky. Other states, like New York and Hawaii, are choosing to adopt some form of a passport program.
- On Thursday, Florida filed a lawsuit challenging existing HHS and CDC regulation of the cruise ship industry. DeSantis said the government doesn’t have the right to “mothball” an entire industry, but DeSantis’ own prohibition against businesses requiring vaccine passports has created a hurdle for cruise lines that mandate proof of vaccination in their safety plans. Meanwhile, troubling trends in Florida’s long-term care facilities indicate that staffers account for more infections than residents.
Johnson & Johnson Drops Pledge
Last week, Johnson & Johnson said it won’t be able to meet its pledge to deliver 24 million doses of its vaccine to the U.S. by the end of April, and states are seeing their expected supplies of that vaccine drop dramatically as a result. Thus far, only 5 million Johnson & Johnson doses have been administered, compared with 170 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Pfizer has requested that the Food and Drug Administration expand emergency use authorization of its vaccine to adolescents aged 12 to 15.
The supply update comes after more than 15 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses were contaminated at Emergent BioSolutions’ Baltimore plant, rendering them useless. According to recent reporting, top Trump and Biden officials were aware that this plant had problems retaining skilled staff that would make it difficult to quickly produce vaccines. Previous investigations had also found that the plant fell short in efforts to disinfect and prevent contamination, and it had even discarded contaminated doses of vaccines in the fall and winter.
Trump Administration Political Interference
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released documents illustrating the Trump administration’s political interference in the pandemic response. The documents included communications in which officials bragged about influencing the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, attacked CDC guidance for schools and universities, and promoted a “herd immunity” strategy for combating the virus. In the communications, members of the Trump administration often used personal email accounts for government work.
Trump Administration Private-Sector Influence
Recently released public records have also provided more information about the influence of the private sector over Trump administration officials. Last week, Mother Jones reported on documents from April 2020 in which representatives of JPMorgan Chase requested changes to government lending programs and suggested ways the government could support bailouts for the oil and gas industry. Also last week, American Oversight published documents showing Jared Kushner’s and former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s conversations with private-sector representatives during the early months of the pandemic.
Oversight of the Federal Pandemic Response
- The Government Accountability Office added emergency loan programs for small businesses, including the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan, to its “2021 High-Risk List.” The list focuses on “government operations with greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.” The addition came after GAO found deficiencies in the oversight of these programs, including incomplete loan reviews and recordkeeping, and insufficient oversight plans within the Small Business Administration.
- The SBA Inspector General (OIG) published a report detailing problems with the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program, which was created to support venues impacted by the pandemic. The OIG recommended that SBA strengthen existing controls and implement additional internal controls to address the potential misuse of federal funds.
- Investigating the Trump Administration’s Pandemic Response: In light of documents that showed Trump administration officials had celebrated their interference with CDC scientific reports, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote to Paul Alexander (former HHS senior adviser), Scott Atlas (former special adviser to the president), and Steven Hatfill (former adviser to Assistant to the President Peter Navarro) requesting documents and transcribed interviews regarding their roles in the pandemic response.
- Helping Unemployed Workers Maintain Health Insurance: Several House and Senate committees wrote to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra urging him to establish a special enrollment period for Affordable Care Act coverage following the end of a key subsidy in the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act.
- Georgia Covid-19 Nursing Home Data: Sen. Raphael Warnock and Rep. Hank Johnson Jr. wrote to HHS Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm expressing concern about inconsistencies in data reported to the federal government by dozens of Georgia nursing homes. Warnock and Johnson noted that hundreds of nursing home deaths may not have been included in data collected and published by the CDC and asked the inspector general to include these inconsistencies in its ongoing oversight and audit of coronavirus data collection.